Enkutatash: Celebrating Ethiopian & Eritrean New Year

Long before 2001 when terrorist attacks on the United States turned 9/11 into a dark, sad memorial, September 11 marked the beginning of the New Year and celebration of Enkutatash in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Unlike most parts of the world which uses the Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia and Eritrea have maintained an allegiance to the Coptic calendar which is similar to the Julian calendar. In both countries, when the big rains stop, the sun rises to create a dazzling atmosphere of clear skies and clean fresh air ushering in a new beginning to marks the first day of the month of Mäskäräm which is celebrated as New Year day.

On the Gregorian calendar, the first day of Mäskäräm usually falls on September 11. However, it sometimes falls on September 12 which is the case for this year.

Enkutatash is an exciting festival that traces its origin to biblical times. The word ‘Enkutatash’ means gift of jewels. Legend has it that the celebration of Enkutatash dates back to the return of the Queen of Sheba after her visit to King Solomon. Upon her arrival from her sojourn in the land of Israel, her chiefs welcomed her by replenishing her treasury with enku – jewels.

Enkutatash also coincides with the Feast of St. John the Baptist. On the night before, torches of dry wood are usually burnt in front of houses, as prayers are said and hymns sung to usher in the New Year. All through the country, the 3-day celebration is marked with sermons, prayers, Psalms and hymns, and colorful processions. Large feasts are hosted by families and friends, while young children put on new clothes and dance around the villages, giving out bouquets of flowers to households.

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