Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Genna, or Christmas

in Africa & the Diaspora/Arts & Culture by

Two weeks after most Christian churches around the world celebrate the birth of Christ, the divine child, more than half of the population of Ethiopia observes Christmas on January 7.

Throughout the world, Christmas falls on the date listed in the Gregorian calendar; however, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church still adheres to the ancient Julian calendar.

The time difference is one of the many contrasting practices between Christmas in the West, and that of one of the oldest Christian churches in the world.

The north African country known to defend itself against total colonization, is the second most populous on the continent. So it is safe to say, there are a lot of Christians in the area. Although, media of the West focuses on Islam in Ethiopia, Muslims are a minority.

About 75 percent of Ethiopians are Christians, with most belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, a denomination of Coptic Christians. To date, the Ethiopian Orthodox is noted as the second oldest Christian church, right behind Egypt.


Ethiopian Christmas

Genna (Ganna) or Ledet (Lidet or Ladet), the traditional names for Christmas, is one of the most popular celebrations in Ethiopia.

Leading up to Christmas Genna (Ganna), clerics fast for 43 days. At the culmination, on Christmas Eve, priests gather for a long intricate multi-ceremony lasting through the night.

Exterior of Ras Makkonen Selassie Church in Harar, Ethiopia

In Lalibela, a town in the Amhara region of north Ethiopia, and the main cite for Genna, priests walk through the streets carrying large umbrellas decorated with vivid cloth shades. The clergy and worshippers were thin, white cloth as traditional ceremonial shrouds.

One church at a time, they stop to hold sacred rituals.

One significant rite is replicating the biblical story of the Ark of the Covenant. In the Bible, God asked his followers to create a wooden chest made from an acacia tree then overlaid with golden. Placed in the chest were stone tables containing laws dictated by God called the Ten Commandments.

Eventually, the parade ends at one of the megalithic, old stone-carved churches known to populate the ancient city. Throughout the ceremony, clergy and liturgical students ing hymns and ring bells in a highly solemn occasion. After church services, a breakfast ensues to break the fast. Later that day, young men partake in a game called Genna, which is a precursor to hockey, but on dirt rather than ice.

Christmas revolves around a feast shared by large extended families. It is a solemn event that places focus on close ties and preparing for the Epiphany, which marks the moment when Christ is visited by three wise men.


Rastafari man in Jamaica. Photo credit: Kristen Sturdivant

On the other side of the world, the Rastafari community in Jamaica shares the religious holiday. However, their celebrations are more upbeat as they bring in the holiday to rhythms of Nyabinghi drums and chants.

This special occasion one of the special gatherings, called a, Groundling, in the year. Though not members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Rastafari borrow from its doctrine and some traditions of the religious order.

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