Thursday, December 22, 2011

Melkam Genna!

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Hi lovely Give1Save1 readers! My husband and I were so blessed to have had the opportunity to be the featured family a few weeks ago and I’m excited to have the chance to stay connected to this amazing community by becoming a contributing blogger.

Beth knows how much we love Ethiopia; the people, the culture, the rich history. So how excited was I when she asked me to write about Ethiopian Christmas? (Very!) Although we haven’t been in the country during the holiday itself, and my attempts at convincing my husband that I would be traveling to Ethiopia in a few weeks for “research” so I could provide you with some personal experiences failed, we are, nonetheless, excited to share more about the holiday as it’s celebrated in Ethiopia based on what we know about the culture along with some insight from friends.

One of the more obvious differences between Christmas as celebrated in America and in Ethiopia is the date; the Orthodox Christmas (approximately 50% of the population in Ethiopia are Orthodox Christian) is observed on January 7th.

Melkam Genna! The words Genna (alternate spellings include Ganna and Gena) and Christmas can be used interchangeably to mean the birth of Christ. The holiday can, therefore, also be referred to as “ye genna baal”.

Here at our home, Christmas preparation starts with cutting down our own Christmas tree, digging out decorations and untangling some lights. Shortly thereafter we decide just what we want for Christmas dinner and who will be joining us so we can plan our trips to the grocery store. While we’re out, we might as well get some gifts and wrapping paper! The best part of Christmas, however, is taking time to understand exactly what we are celebrating; the savior of any and all people being born among His creation.

Preparation for the holiday for Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia begins with a fast lasting up to 40 days (Advent) prior to the holiday itself. This means the day of Christmas involves eating MEAT. For those that can afford it, they will feast on sheep or doro wot (spicy chicken sauce or stew). For those that can’t (which is unfortunately the majority of the country), they will still celebrate by eating special foods including eggs and others that will not include shiro (a sauce or stew made of chickpeas), a daily staple in the Ethiopian diet. Our most recent trip to Ethiopia was during the fast leading up to Easter so we had plenty of chances to eat shiro and love it!

Full of historical and religious history, one legend states that the wise man who brought frankincense to the birth of Jesus was King Balthazar of Ethiopia. Because of this, many people burn frankincense incense as a part of their celebration. It is also said that the shepherds celebrated the news of the birth of Jesus Christ by playing a game called genna. This game, involving two opposing teams hitting a wooden ball with wooden sticks made from local trees attempting to outscore each other, similar to field hockey, is still played around Christmas.

Orthodox Christians typically attend church on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning, often celebrating with candles. Although the church is a gathering place for those worshipping God and celebrating the coming of Christ through Christmas, Orthodox church-goers don’t actually enter the church.  Instead, they stand outside. There is a very elaborate ceremony surrounding communion involving three concentric circles.

Decorating and gifts are not an important part of the celebration. I suppose I should mention, however, as the western influence grows a bit in Ethiopia, they are seeing the sales of small, artificial trees popping up here and there. They are usually for sale about a week before Christmas and are very expensive, so the few Ethiopians that purchase one will typically be from the upper class.

Christmas seems to be one of the most intensely celebrated holidays here in America, but that isn’t necessarily the case in Ethiopia. So what’s more important in Ethiopia than Christmas? Easter and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But that’s for another day and another post!

Again, I am so thankful to have the chance to keep up with the Give1Save1 community. From our family to yours, we wish you a betam melkam genna! (a very merry Christmas!)


Kelly and her husband, Nick, are in the process of adopting their first child, a five year old child from Ethiopia who Kelly met on her first trip to Ethiopia in 2009. Kelly is a physical therapist and loves having the opportunity to spend time volunteering in Ethiopia, bringing and building equipment to optimize physical development, creating new programs to assist with orphanage organization and providing caregiver education. Living in Colorado, Kelly enjoys most things outdoors, including snowboarding and hiking. Kelly blogs over at just love.

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