A series about how children in other countries celebrate Christmas.
Ethiopia, following the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Christ’s birth on January 7. It is known as Gena. Preparation for the holiday begins as early as a week before, with families buying food and ingredients for meals. If people can afford it, they buy a goat or sheep to eat. Those who can’t pool their money with a dozen or more others and buy an animal for the Gena feast.
On the eve of Gena, many families go to church. Some people spend the whole night praying and praising God for sending Jesus to this world. Others stay home preparing various meals such as dorowat (a spicy chicken sauce), injera (flat bread), and sigawot (spicy sheep, goat, cow, or ox stews) to be served on Christmas day.
On Christmas Day, people in rural areas put on traditional white clothes and go to church. Priests preside over services wearing turbans and red-and-white robes and carrying beautifully embroidered fringed umbrellas. They preach the about the birth of Jesus Christ and His redeeming power to all humans. They also remind the congregation to give alms to the poor and take beggars into their homes—which some families do as they encounter poor neighbors on their way home.
Christmas afternoon is a time of fun. Men and boys gather for a popular Ethiopian game called Gena Chewata in one region, Kile in another. It’s somewhat like hockey, played with curved sticks and a round wooden ball. Teams use their sticks to drive the ball into the opposing team’s goal, with fans cheering them on. It is believed that the shepherds were playing this while tending their flocks on the night that Jesus was born.
The winners receive bread made especially for the occasion and blessed by elders in the name of God. “On receiving the bread,” says Jambo Damte, 19, “the winner team members [are] highly excited, as if they received the World Cup Trophy. They will dance, jubilate, and shout.”
—Reported by Aklilu Kassaye