No. It’s not a mere spillover from the yuletide festivities that characterizes December, or a figurative expression of some random joyous occasion merely evoking the merry feeling of Christmas. It is very much the celebration of the real thing, as much as December 25 celebration is. Genna or Ethiopian Christmas takes place in the month of January in Ethiopia.
According to the ancient Julian calendar which is used in Ethiopia, Christmas day falls on January 7 on the popular Gregorian calendar most of us are familiar with. The word genna is derived from Gennana which means imminent and is a reference to the coming of the Lord Jesus and the freeing of mankind from sin.
Late in the afternoon on Genna day, a traditional hockey-like game called Yágenna Chewata often shortened to Genna is played with much enthusiasm among the youths with the elders acting as referees. It is claimed that when the shepherd heard about the birth of Christ, they were joyful and so ecstatic, they started playing the game with their sticks and staffs.
Another sport engaged in during genna is Yeferas suk which involves men on horseback throwing lances at each other. Hmmm…sound like dangerous fun!
The day before Genna (January 6) is usually a day of fasting for the people. However, for the priests and clergy the fast usually starts about 40 days earlier. Early morning on Genna, a traditional garment called shamma, a white thin toga-like cotton cloth is worn by the people and they go for mass which is held as early as 04:00hrs.
The service often lasts three hours with everyone standing through it, clergy and laity! Afterwards, they return to their homes to break the fast, feasting on the popular doro wat and injera, accompanied with tej, a local wine made from honey.
Christmas is more reflective in Ethiopia with gift exchange playing a minor role in the celebrations, and it is often amongst family and close friends. However, the children can always expect gifts of new clothes and outfits. Father Christmas is known as Yágena Abãt in Amharic.
Genna is a precursor to the Timkat festival which takes place twelve days later. Guess it’s not too late to say, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
For more about Genna, Christmas in Ethiopia, please see: