Ethiopian Christmas is celebrated on January 7th each year. Most of the country's population is Orthodox, and Christmas celebrations last for weeks. Here is our quick guide to Ethiopian Christmas or Ganna in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Christmas celebrations — also known as Ganna — are slightly different than those in the West. Ganna is a religious holiday, and gift-giving or Santa Claus does not play a role.
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After the meal, it is typical to have a coffee ceremony where coffee is roasted and passed around to take in the smell.
Each person is given a candle (to represent the star of Bethlehem) and walks three times around the church in a solemn procession. Then each person stops to form an outer circle. In the centre circle, the priest serves Holy Communion.
The celebration, which will last for 12 days, then begins. This is a time of games, festivities, folk dancing and performances. Boys play a holiday game (called Ganna) that is comparable to hockey, with a curved stick and round wooden ball. This game represents the shepherds tending to their flocks and is a large part of the Christmas celebrations.
Ethiopian men play a sport called yeferas guks which involves horseback riding and shooting "spears" at each other.
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The enormous crowds celebrate all night long with chanting, singing and prayers, and are an evocative sight.
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Timkat is a particularly spectacular occasion in Gondar when Fasil’s Pool is filled with water and hundreds of eager participants leap in to re-enact the baptism. It is also a big event in Lalibela.
Timkat is known for its music, and many instruments are played during the celebration. The sistrum (made of tinkling metal disks) and the makamiya (a prayer stick used as percussion) can be heard throughout the procession.
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Ethiopian Christmas is one of many sites you can see on your dream trip to Africa. Find out about the best time to go and the best places to see and things to do in Ethiopia. For inspiration use the Ethiopia itineraries from The Rough Guide to Ethiopia and our local travel experts. A bit more hands-on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there. And don't forget to buy travel insurance before you go.
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