The Ethiopian Calendar

Flag of Ethiopia

As we talked about the Enkutatash or the Ethiopian New year, I thought that it will be awesome to talk more about the Ethiopian calendar. After all, we are in 2014 in the Ethiopian calendar while we are in 2021 in the Gregorian calendar. Where does this come from? Do months have 30 and 31 days in the Ethiopian calendar like in the current calendar used by most people?

Well, the Ethiopian calendar is derived from the Egyptian solar calendar but adds a leap day every 4 years without exception. Like the Egyptian Coptic calendar, the Amharic calendar comprises 12 months of 30 days each, with an additional month of just 5 or 6 days, depending on the year, i.e. in the Ethiopian calendar, there are 13 months, with 12 months which all have 30 days, and one month with only 5 or 6 days; no need for a song to keep track of which month has 30 or 31 days or even 28 days (February, I am looking at you). Ethiopian calendar months begin on the same days as Coptic calendar months but are instead named in Ge’ez, the ancient language of northern Ethiopia and southern Eritrea. Also a 6th day is added every four years to the 13th month, without exception, to indicate the leap year; this is placed 6 months before the corresponding Gregorian day.

The Ge’ez calendar is the principal calendar used in both Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Map of Ethiopia and Eritrea

The beginning of the calendar is based on the birth of Jesus. Ethiopians use the Incarnation Era to indicate the year, which places the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus on March 25, AD 9 in the Julian calendar. On the other hand, Europeans adopted a different calculation for the Annunciation which placed it eight years earlier, meaning that there exists a gap of 8 years between the start of the Ethiopian calendar and the Gregorian. Most of the major celebrated holidays such as Christmas occur on completely different days, so instead of December 25th, it is celebrated on January 7th which is considered by the Ethiopian orthodox church as Jesus birth day.

Lastly, the time of the day is such that the day starts at sunrise, and sunset is the end of the day: the sun and the moon that are used to count time each have 12 hours before setting… so 6:00AM in the morning in other places of the world will be 12:00AM, midday is 6:00AM, and when the sun goes down it is 12:00PM in Ethiopia. I just wonder how you would tell time if you lived in a different country, and were trying to call a friend in Ethiopia, how would you know when to call?

Wouldn’t it be difficult for a foreigner to tell the time and the year in Ethiopia? I must admit that the Ethiopian calendar does seem a lot simpler than what we have though!