PHOTO ESSAY: There’s No Santa Claus During Christmas In Ethiopia
By Sharelle Burt
Christmas is technically a religious holiday, but you wouldn’t know it if you’re celebrating in the States.
In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 in accordance with the old Julian calendar. The celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called “Ganna.” Most people attend church service on Christmas Day but the celebration lasts far longer than one day.
Starting on November 25th, people participate in a special Advent that lasts for 43 days, known as Fast of the Prophets or Tsome Nebiyat. During the fast, people are allowed to eat one vegan meal a day.
One of the most famous churches in Ethiopia is where many leaders and believers go for service. The Churches of Lalibela, a world heritage site, is located in Lalibela, which is considered a holy city like Jerusalem. Worshippers donning all white apparel gather around and chant during service just before 7 a.m. Since churches are typically built in three circles, each within the others, choirs sing from the outer circle. It’s really quite beautiful to see.
On January 7, everyone who goes to church is given a candle for the Ganna celebration and they take a march around the outer circle of the church three times in a procession. Next, they move to the second circle to stand during the service. The middle of the circle is left alone as that is looked at as the most sacred part of the church, where the priests serve Holy Communion and Mass.
It doesn’t stop there. On January 19th, 12 days after Christmas, Timkat starts. It’s a festival that celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ and lasts for three days. While men and boys are separated from the women and girls for Christmas celebrations, during Timkat everyone celebrates together. Children walk to church services in a procession, wearing the crowns and robes of the church youth groups that they belong to. Priests wear red and white robes and carry beautifully embroidered umbrellas. The other adults wear the Netela, which is a traditional scarf or to us, a headwrap.
There’s no chubby elderly man giving gifts to children based on how they behaved during the year. There are no gift exchanges or elaborately decorated trees. Children may receive a small gift or clothes from family members but Ganna is strictly about putting Christ back in Christmas. Take a look.