Based on the Alexandrian calendar used by Egypt’s Coptic Church, the Ethiopian calendar differs from the familiar Gregorian calendar that has been used in Europe since 1582. The year consists of twelve thirty-day months plus a thirteenth month of only five days (six in leap years). New Year, or Enkutatash, falls on September 11 (Sept 12 in leap years), in keeping with calculations made by the sixth-century monk Dionysius Exiguus dating the annunciation of Jesus to the same day in 8 BC. This means that the Ethiopian calendar is eight years behind the rest of the world most of the time, and seven years between September 11 and the end of December – Ethiopia celebrated the turn of the millennium in 2007. Practically speaking, most institutions used by tourists now operate on the Western calendar, but visitors are occasionally caught out by the difference.

A quirk with far greater impact on visitors is that Ethiopians measure time in 12-hour cycles starting at 6am and 6pm. In other words, their one o’clock (and sa’at or hour one) is our seven o’clock, their two o’clock (hulet sa’at or hour two) is our eight o’clock, and so on. Even when speaking English, Ethiopians frequently stick with Ethiopian time, which means that when somebody tells you something is happening at two, they could mean two o’clock or eight o’clock. One way to check is to ask the time in Amharic (sa’at sintno?), in which case you can be sure the answer will be in Ethiopian time. Alternatively, ask whether they mean European or habbishat time.


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