Christmas in January?

For many of us, this month is about hustle and bustle as the holidays approach. But let’s cast our minds 12,000 kilometres across the Atlantic. How do Ethiopians celebrate Christmas?

Turns out, Ethiopia’s countdown is a little bit different. When Christmas isn’t until January, there’s a little more time to prepare.   

Ethiopia runs on the Julian calendar, with traditional Christmas holidays in January. That would certainly be a way to break up the cold and dark winter month that’s generally such a downer here in Canada, eh?

First comes Christmas Day, or Ganna, on Jan. 7.

 It's so interesting to see how the same holidays are celebrated in such different ways! Ethiopians save their Christmas festivities for January, when Christians celebrate Ganna and Timkat.

It's so interesting to see how the same holidays are celebrated in such different ways! Ethiopians save their Christmas festivities for January, when Christians celebrate Ganna and Timkat.

With a strong religious foundation, Ethiopians concentrate on the history and meaning behind the holiday. It’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus, not a gift giving frenzy. If any presents are given to Ethiopian children, it’s likely to be a small gift of clothing. For many, going to church is the key focus of Christmas Day – and the main mass is at 4 a.m.!

There’s some Canadian spirit during this holiday, too. Men typically play a hockey-style game with a wooden stick and ball. The goal is to get the ball into small hole in the ground.

Fasting is another part of the Orthodox Christianity practiced in many parts of Ethiopia. Many people choose to eat a diet free of meat and dairy the day before Christmas.

But, just like Canadians, Ethiopians use food to help celebrate the holiday. Christmas Day is about spending time with friends and family and eating a meal together. Traditional Ethiopian food includes injera – a spongy flatbread made from teff – and wat – various kinds of stew that you “scoop up” using pieces of injera.

Twelve days after Christmas, on Jan. 19, the second traditional holiday begins. Timkat is a uniquely Ethiopian tradition that celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ. Ethiopians attend church over the course of this three-day festival. Families walk to church in a festive procession with instruments tapping out a beat and children in brightly-coloured clothes.  

It’s so interesting to see how holiday traditions translate in different countries and cultures. We wish all of you a safe, happy and healthy Christmas season!