Ethiopian New Year… A Look at the Ethiopian Calendar

Flag of Ethiopia

A few days back, yours truly was invited to the celebration of the Ethiopian New year. Yes… this year Enkutatash, or the Ethiopian New year, was celebrated on September 11th, and my friend went on to tell me more about it. Did you know that we are currently in the year 2014 in the Ethiopian calendar?

The Ethiopian calendar is a solar calendar based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. The first month of the year is September, called Meskerem in Amharic, the local language. One of the reasons given is that during the month of September, the number of daylight hours and nighttime hours happen to be exactly equal in every part of the globe. Moreover, during this time of the year, the sun and the moon that are used to count time each have 12 hours before setting. Another reason often given is that it could be derived from the Bible, where the creation of the Heavens and Earth are said to have taken place in September. Lastly as in many world calendars, harvests must have been key in the setting up of the calendar.

Adey Abeba flower (Source: WikiCommons)

Enkutatash is the name for the Ethiopian New Year and means “gift of jewels” in Amharic. The story goes back almost 3,000 years to the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia who was returning from her visit to King Solomon of Israel, as mentioned in the Bible in I Kings 10 and II Chronicles 9. She had gifted King Solomon with 120 talents of gold (4.5 tons) as well as a large amount of unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia, her chiefs welcomed her with enku or jewels to replenish her treasury. The name Enku may also refer to the countryside, which is covered by bright yellow flowers known as Adey Abeba as this time of the year also marks the end of the raining season. The appearance of the bright yellow flowers also indicates the impending harvest which is to be celebrated (see… harvest).

Doro wot on Injera (Source: cookingchanneltv.com)

The celebration is both religious and secular. The day begins with big church services, followed by the family meal. Young children will receive small gifts of money or bread after the girls gather flowers and sing, and boys paint pictures of saints. Families eat the famed national flat bread injera with the national dish doro wot (chicken stew), which takes at least half a day to prepare, and is rarely missed during these celebrations; families visit friends, and adults drink Tej, the national Ethiopian wine made out of honey… reminds me so much of King Lalibela (bees)… is this where the tradition comes from?

This year in particular, the hope is for peace and harmony… to a happy new year. Enkuan Aderesachihu!

The Timkat Festival: Ethiopian Festival of Epiphany

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Priests walking with the Tabot, the Ark of the Covenant, in a procession through Gondar (Carl Court, Getty Images/ The Guardian)

Today we celebrate the Timkat Festival, the Ethiopian celebration of Epiphany.  This year, it takes place on 19 January, while on leap years it is on 20 January (which is the 10th day of the TerrEthiopian calendar).  It is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus Christ on the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23).  For the celebrations, pilgrims come from around the country to enact the baptism, celebrating the Epiphany, which lasts 3 days.

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Pilgrims at Fasilides’ Castle in Gondar (Carl Court / Getty Images/ The Guardia)

The best place for the celebration is in Gondar at the Fasilides Castle: a Pure Gem of Ethiopia’s Rich History. During the ceremonies of Timkat, a procession headed by the most senior priest is led to the river, carrying the Tabot, a model of the Ark of the Covenant, reverently wrapped in rich cloth. Once the water is blessed, many jump into the water to partake into the renewal of the baptismal vows. It is a great joy, for many believe that the sick are cured. It is a feast of celebration, and processional crosses of varying size and elaboration as well as various Ethiopian artifacts can be seen on the occasion.  Participants wear the traditional shamma, which is a thin, white cotton wrap worn like a toga and as headdress.  The best places to attend the event are in Lalibela, Gondar, or Addis Ababa.

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Female drummers during the festival (Carl Court / Getty Images / The Guardian)

Here are photojournals from The Guardian, the Huffington Post, and the BBC on the Timkat Festival; my favorite one is from the Guardian, by Carl De Souza, and the other one by Carl Court. I also liked this article on the wildjunket. Enjoy!!!

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Ladies posing near trees during the Timkat celebration (Carl Court / Getty Images / The Guardian)