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Festivals and Holydays


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This is the final great religious festival and is the most important Orthodox Christian festival in Ethiopia. It commemorates when saint John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Since Lalibella is one of the major centers of Christian pilgrimage, its version of Timkat is very unique.

Christmas or Gena celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ at the same time the rest of the Christian world celebrates it (Christmas Eve). At the midnight mass the Dabtaras sing special canticles and at noon on Christmas day, youths in traditional dress play genna chewata to commemorate the Sheppard’s who were playing this game outside the stable while Jesus was born (the game consists of pushing a wooden ball with a long stick similar to today’s game of hockey). It was these shepherds who spread the good news. The three wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are also celebrated.

A celebration commemorating saint Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine(4th century), who found the true cross in Jerusalem is a great festival celebrated 16 days after the New Year comes.

It all begins the night before, when the men light the chibo (long wooden stakes tied together) inside their houses and then carry it outside to ward off bad luck and attract good year. On New Year’s Day people visit friends and family, the young girls sing a new year’s song and the families invite them in to eat bread and meat. At this time of year, the yellow daisy Adey Abeba (the mescal flower) blooms and does so every year only at New Year’s time.

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