Christmas in Ethiopia: The unique traditions of Ethiopian Christmas

Christmas in Ethiopia, like most other Christian holidays, is celebrated in its own unique way. Falling on January 7th, the holiday of Genna (also known as Lidet, or “birthday”), does not hold as prominent a place on the Ethiopian calendar as it does in other parts of the world. Easter (Fasika) reigns as the preeminent Christian holiday, but Genna nonetheless remains a major religious and cultural event throughout the country.

The first Christmas meal is often an early breakfast, eaten by bleary-eyed congregants after returning home. The light meal likely starts with juice made from flaxseed (to oil up the intestines after 40 days of fasting).

 

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Ethiopian Christmas tradition is that it is associated with a sport, also called Genna, that is most widely played during the holiday season. According to Ethiopian legend, when the shepherds of the biblical Christmas story were informed of the birth of the Messiah, they expressed their overwhelming joy by using their staffs to break into a spontaneous game that resembles field hockey. The afternoon of Genna is filled with matches of the game, played mainly by young men, and potentially other sporting activities such as horse racing.

Although Genna is observed by Christians across Ethiopia, the most famous Christmas celebrations arguably occur in the historic city of Lalibela.

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