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Unique Ceremonies

here are many great national and local holidays and celebrations throughout the year and all over the country. Every one of the 54,000 parish Churches and the 800 monasteries of the Orthodox Tewahido Church all have at least one minor monthly and one major annual festival. These may share origins with Christian, Muslim and tribal festivals elsewhere in the world, but have unique indigenous characteristics in Ethiopia. If you can, try to plan your trip around one of the following spectacular festivals:

Meskel (The Finding of the True Cross) Celebrated on September 27 at an open amphitheater (Meskel Square) in Addis Abeba with a huge bonfire and priests in splendid ceremonial attire

Genna(Ethiopian Christmas) in Lalibela Observed two weeks after European Christmas on January 7.

Timket (Epiphany) this involves a colourful procession of priests and followers singing and dancing. They carry the Tabots (replicas of the Holy Ark of the Covenant that sanctifies and sits on the altar of every Ethiopian Orthodox Church inside the Holy of Holies) from their sanctuaries overnight. Celebrated on Epiphany, January 19, Timket is the most popular national holiday among Ethiopian Christians. The best venues for Timket are Addis Abeba, Gondar, Axum and Lalibela.

Bull jumping and Donga Of the many fascinating rituals, ceremonies and celebrations of the various tribal groups of the Omo in southwest Ethiopia is bull jumping. This is a rite of passage ceremony in which female relatives of a young man are flogged to bleeding as proof of their affection. This then qualifies the initiate for marriage. In other groups a fierce stick fight known as donga is part of an initiation ritual for young men to become adults and marry. These ceremonies have no fixed venues and times as such. They take place all over the Hamer and Surma lands and, depending on the rains, in February-March/April.

Calendar

Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which comprises twelve months of thirty days each and a thirteenth month of five days (or six days in a leap year). The calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Western (Gregorian) calendar.

Clocks and Time
The Ethiopian clock is similar to many equatorial countries and there is a six-hour difference between Ethiopian and Western time. This means Western 6:00 am is 12:00am Ethiopian time and 6pm Western time is 12 noon Ethiopian time. Ethiopia is also three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

However, there is no adjustment of clocks for winter or Summer Time, so there is no putting clocks backward or forwards an hour. Being close to the Equator there is almost twelve hours of constant daylight. In Addis Ababa, sunrise begins at around 06.30 and sunset is about 18:45.

Language
Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, although English, Italian, French and Arabic are fairly spoken. Ethiopians are proud of their rich tongue and frequently make the point that its vocabulary is as extensive as that of English, if not more so and that English should be used for foreign correspondence. But English is still widely spoken and remains a principal medium of instruction in secondary schools.

In addition to Amharic, with the unique and elegant alphabet, there are around 80 local languages and about 200 dialects in the country.

ECONOMY

About 90 percent of the population earns their living from the land, mainly as subsistence farmers. Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy and the principal exports from this sector are coffee, oil seeds, pulses, flowers, vegetables, sugar and foodstuffs for animals. There is also a thriving livestock sector, exporting cattle on the hoof and hides and skins. Mineral exploration has stepped up in recent years – there are reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, copper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, nickel, marble, precious and semi-precious stones. Thermal power generation schemes are already operational in Afar and Oromo Regions.

FOOD

The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera, made out of ingredient known as Teffe that originally used to grow only in Ethiopia. Teffe is currently know for its nutrients value of it being gluten free . a flat, circular pancake made of fermented dough on top of which are served different kinds of cooked meats, vegetables and pulses. The sauces are generally spiced with berbere, a blend of herbs and spices (including hot peppers) which gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste. Vegetarians should try “fasting food” (for devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast days make up nearly half the year), a colorful spread of Salads, vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal products.Along with the traditional Ethiopian meal, one would typically drink either t’ej, a type of honey wine, or a local beer called t’ella. Ethiopia produces its own wines: Dukam and Gouder are dry reds; Crystal is a dry white; and Axumite is a sweet red. The sister company of BGI Ethiopia (owner of St. George Brewery,) Castel Winery Plc took over the state-owned vineyard located in Battu, some 160Km south west of the capital Addis Ababa. Castel Winery has two product lines namely Rift Valley and Acacia.The food served at hotels, lodges and tented camps is almost exclusively continental cuisine, and universally ample and healthy.

PEOPLE AND CULTURE

Over 80 linguistic groups exist in Ethiopia, representing four of the five Afro-Asiatic families of languages, including the Omotic language family found exclusively within the confines of Ethiopia. The mystical symbols, myths and ritual practices found in Ethiopia are linked with the mysteries and traditional beliefs of the ancient civilizations of Asia, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. The customs, body decorations and celebrations of Ethiopia’s traditional people mirror Africa’s exotic cultural heritage.

COUNTRY TOPOGRAPHIC PROFILE

With an area of 1, 112, 000 square kilometers, Ethiopia is as large as France and Spain combined. From the north and running down the center are the Abyssinian highlands, to the west of the chain the land drops to the grasslands of Sudan, to the east the deserts of the Afar and the Red Sea. South of Addis Ababa, the land is dominated by the Rift Valley Lakes.The main rivers are the Blue Nile, the Tekezze (which joins the Nile in Sudan) the Awash, the Wabe Shebelle, the Omo, and Baro and Birbir.It is surrounded by Kenya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti.

Meskel September 27

Meskel(Finding of the True Cross), is the celebration of the finding of remnants of the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified.  The word “meskel” means “cross” in Amharic.  According to Christian tradition, St. Eleni (Empress Helena) discovered the hiding place of three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus.  In her dream, Eleni was told she should make a bonfire; the direction of the smoke would tell her the exact location of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified.  She followed the directions from her dream, and the smoke landed exactly where the cross was buried.

Meskelcelebrations begin the night before with large bonfires topped with a cross and decorated with meskel flowers.  The bonfire preparations are blessed and burned while revelers sing and dance around the fire, locally called demera.  It is believed that the direction of the smoke will predict the future for the year to come.  After the demera has burnt out, the faithful mark crosses on their foreheads with the ash.

The biggest Meskelcelebration is in Addis Ababa, held in the centrally-located Meskel Square.  Gondar, Axum and Lalibela are also good locations to celebrate this festival.  Probably the most exuberant celebrations take place in the region of the Gurage people, southwest from Addis.

EnkutatashSeptember 11

Enkutatash, which means “Gift of Jewels” is the celebration of the Ethiopian New Year.  Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of 13 months – 12 months each with 30 days and a final month with 5 days (6 days in leap year).  The Julian calendar is 7 years and 8 months behind the Gregorian calendar, which is used throughout most of the Western world.  In 2007 (Gregorian calendar), Ethiopia rang in the year 2000 and the new Ethiopian Millennium with colorful celebrations throughout the country.

Enkutatashhappens to come near the end of a long rainy season, coloring the green landscapes with bright yellow flowers (called the Meskel Flower, or adeiabeba in Amharic) and giving great reason to celebrate the new harvest.  Torches of dry wood are burned in front of houses on New Year’s Eve.  On New Year’s Day, girls dressed in new clothes go door-to-door singing songs.  Families and friends celebrate together with large feasts.

This day also happens to coincide with the saint’s day of St. John the Baptist.  This religious ceremony can be seen at the KosteteYohannes church in the village of Gaynt, where celebrations are carried out for three days.  Just outside of Addis Ababa, on the Entoto Mountain, Raguel Church has the largest religious celebration in the country.

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