Ghenna (ገና) and Timket (ጥምቀት) are synonymous to Christmas and Epiphany, respectively, in the official working language Amharic with their unique Ethiopian features and calendar. In Ethiopia, both festivities are celebrated during the month of January with their colourful cultural and religious attributes. Ghenna (ገና), an Ethiopian Christmas, is celebrated among Christians throughout the country every year on the 7th of January; but its celebration in the town of Lalibela, one of the UNESCO inscribed world heritage sites, is an epic one. Similarly, the Ethiopian Epiphany (Timket) is also cheerfully celebrated among Christians all over the country every year on the 19th of January. This festivity has been inscribed by UNESCO as one of intangible cultural heritages of the the world on December 11, 2019. The most colourful Timket celebration takes place every year in Gonder city. Beyond the religious importance of Ghenna and Timket festivities, their cultural and touristic value is also significant.
Ethiopia is one of the few ancient civilizations in the world with its own alphabets and calendar. Unlike the Gregorian’s calendar, the Ethiopian calendar is composed of 13 Months of which the 12 months have 30 days each, and the 13th month named Pagume has regularly five days but changes to six days every leap year. Following this calendar, Ethiopia celebrates its own Christmas (Ghenna). It is colourfully celebrated on the 7th of January on Gregorian calendar or on 29th of Tahisas on Ethiopian Calendar. The eve of Christmas is called Gahad and it is marked with fasting mainly among Orthodox Christians.
Ghenna is a celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Besides, it also has immense social and cultural importance for Ethiopians. Being one of the major tourist attraction events, it is also of important economic value.
The best place to experience Ethiopian Christmas is Lalibela, one of Ethiopia’s most famous destinations and home to the incredible 12th century rock-hewn churches. Pilgrims flock to the rock-hewn churches, adorned in white clothes. Attending service in the night in the deep, subterranean passageways of those ancient churches is an experience you cannot ever forget.Ethiopian Christmas in Lalibela is one of the most memorable experiences anywhere in Africa. Thousands of pilgrims, draped in white cotton garment, gather around the 12th century rock-hewn churches for an evening of celebration and reverence.
The festivities are about a communal experience, and a commitment to faith. Christmas celebration in Ethiopia is an experience of religious activities and associated colourful cultural practices that have religious roots. Most people wear a traditional garment made of cotton called Shema. It’s a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly coloured stripes across the ends.
On its cultural side, Ethiopian Christmas incorporates a game called ye ghenna chewata in Amharic, (Game of Christmas). It is played during the Christmas season especially in the rural parts of the country and it resembles field hockey. It’s played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball. The Ghenna game is traditionally considered by many Ethiopians to be one of the country’s popular and most ancient outdoor games. Though it is mostly played in the rural parts of Ethiopia, young boys and men can still be observed playing ghenna game in towns and even in the capital, as Christmas season approaches. The conclusion of a ghenna game is followed by high-spirited group singing and dancing called asina ghennaye (Proverb of Genna).
On 19th January, twelve days after Ghenna, Ethiopians start the two-day celebration of Timket. The celebration starts on the eve, which is also called ketera, and continues to the day of Timket. It is an Ethiopian Epiphany that celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ.
Ethiopian Epiphany is a colourful festival celebrated among Christians all over Ethiopia to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. The commemoration starts on the eve of the main festival on 18th of January each year. The eve is known as Ketera, which involves creating a pool with flowing water to make it ready for the blessing of the celebrants. During Ketera, people escort their parish church tabot (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant) to Timkete-Bahir (a pool, river, or artificial reservoir), transported by a priest of the parish and accompanied by a great ceremony. The people spend the night attending night-long prayers and hymn services, including the Eucharistic Liturgy. Hundreds of thousands participate in the actual festival on the following day, 19th of January.
The celebration starts early in the morning with pre-sunrise rituals. These are followed by the sprinkling of the blessed water on the congregation, as well as other ceremonies. At around 10 a.m., each tabot begins its procession back to its respective church, involving an even more colorful ceremony with various traditional and religious songs. The viability of the element is ensured through its continued practice, with Orthodox clergies playing a pivotal role: they sing the praises dedicated to the rituals and hymns, carry the Ark, and preach relevant texts.
Timket is now the 4th intangible cultural heritage from Ethiopia inscribed as world intangible heritage after Meskel, the Geda system and Fichee-chambalaalla (celebration of finding of the true cross of Jesus Christ, an indigenous democratic socio-political system of the Oromo people, and New Year festival of the Sidama people, respectively). These are besides the other 9 UNESCO inscribed tangible heritages of Ethiopia.
Timket has been one of the major attractions of tourists to Ethiopia, and the number of tourists travelling from all over the world to attend this colourful festivity is increasing from year to year. With its originality, colourfulness, cultural and spiritual importance, the event is a worth visiting carnival for tourists. The Timket celebration usually happens from January 18th to 19th every year, and from January 19th to 20th on leap year. On Ethiopian calendar, Timket happens on the 11th of the month of Tir (ጥር), and Ketera happens on the 10th.
Visitors drawn from various parts of the world including Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa attended the annual festival Timket that colorfully celebrated at Jan-Meda, in the capital Addis Ababa with millions of congregations. The Ethiopian Epiphany is one of the emblematic religious and cultural festivals unique to Ethiopia, whose viability is ensured through continuous practice and the pivotal contributions of the clergy.
The city of Godar, a historic city with an ancient Castle in the northern part of Ethiopia, is also well known for glowing celebration of Timket as Lalibela is famous for Ghenna.
Ethiopia, as the Land of Origins, has much to offer to international tourists: from the world-class archeological sites to the UNESCO inscribed tangible heritage, unique carnivals, beautiful landscape, and welcoming people. The Ethiopian airlines, which has daily direct flights between Addis Ababa and Brussels, is always set to provide world class services to incoming and outgoing tourists. As a cradle of humankind, and much more to explore, Ethiopia always invites tourists to visit their origin and enjoy the friendly and generous reception from the people.
The Embassy of Ethiopia in Brussels wishes you all Melkam Ghenna (መልካም ገና) and Melkam Timket (መልካም ጥምቀት)!