Festivals, Holiday and Celebrations in Ethiopia

Celebrations in Ethiopia are great and colorful events, mostly religious, and frequently take place over several days.

With over 80 ethnic groups, the cultures of many different communities pattern Ethiopian lifestyle. Celebrations and festivals play an important part in daily social life. The Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrations are unique and impressive; Important Christian festivals which provide colorful ceremonies include Enkutatash (New Year) falls on September 11 which coincides with the end of the season of heavy rains and the beginning of Spring,  Timket, which marks Christ’s baptism is the most colorful even of the year, Genna(Christmas), Meskel marks the Finding of the True Cross and Fasika (Easter). During the celebration People dress in traditional costume white clothes made from cotton.

Islamic tradition also celebrates religious festivals in Ethiopian which are based on the Lunar Calendar and it falls at different times each year. Notably the most known holidays are Muharram, Ramadan, which is marked by fasting, Id Al Adeha is the feast marking Abraham’s sacrifice and Eid-Al-Fetir, the greatest muslim feast of the year that is celebrated at the end of Ramadan. Muslims also celebrate the Prophet Mohammed's birthday on September 20 and mark the anniversaries of numerous martyrs.
The harmonious Ethiopian coffee ceremony is the remarkable sign of the holyday in all religions of Ethiopia. Coffee is made accompanied with Ketema (fresh green grass) and incense with adorable set of tray, clay made coffee pots, Ceramic coffee cups.


Buhe- 21 August

Bands of small boys call at each house, singing and jostling until they are given some fresh dough (buhe), that is being prepared for baking. In the evening, bonfires are lit outside each home.

Enkutatash - New Year, 11 September

Ethiopian New Year falls on September 1 Ethiopian calendar (September 11 Gregorian Calendar) at the end of the Ethiopian rain season and is called “Enkutatash” meaning “Gifts of Jewels” When the famous Queen of Sheba retuned from her expensive journey to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with enku, or jewels. The spring festival has been celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside. 

This festival celebrates both the New Year and the Feast of John the Baptist at the end of the long rains in Spring, when the Highlands become covered in wild flowers. Children dressed in new clothes dance through the villages, distributing garlands and tiny paintings. In the evening every house lights a bonfire and there is singing and dancing. Enkutatash is not exclusively a religious holiday. The little girls singing and dancing in pretty new dresses among the flowers in the fields convey the message of spring- time and renewed life. Today’s Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal New Year greetings and cards among the urban people. Enkutatash is highly celebrated all over the country!

Maskal- Finding of the True Cross, 27 September

Meskel, one of the major Ethiopian orthodox festivals celebrated on 27th September. It is a two days festival.  Meskel festival is typically religious. Legend has it that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was discovered in the year 326 by Queen Helena/Empress Helen, Mother of Constantine the Great, and Unable to find the Holy Sepulchre, she prayed for help and was directed by the smoke to where the cross was buried. The queen in her efforts to discover the cross, setup long poles and set them a fire. Skyward raised the smoke and down it bent, touching the spot on the earth where the original cross was found buried. After the unearthing of the Holy Cross, Queen Helen lit up torches heralding her success to the neighboring areas.

In the Middle Ages, the Patriarch of Alexandria gave the Ethiopian Emperor Dawit half of the True Cross in retum for the protection afforded to the Coptic Christians A fragment of the True Cross is reputed to be held at the Gishen Marien monastery which is about 70 kilometres to the northwest of Dessie.

Meskel is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as "Damera" Colourful processions carrying buming torches converge on to the square, where a wax tapers are lit and the celebrations continue until dawn. Meskel commemorates the finding of the True Cross in the fourth century. The celebration of Meskel signifies the presence of the True Cross at mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery and also symbolizes the events carried out by Empress Helena. Addis Ababa is exceptional, the celebrations takes place in Maskal Square, the great City centre. There are two occasions on Meskel. The first is Demera, (September 26) this is the bonfire event, it takes place on the eve of Meskel. A bonfire is built topped by a cross to which flowers are tied. The flowers are Meskel   daisy. The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church orchestrates the lightening ceremony. After the bonfires are blessed they are lit and dancing and singing begins around them. While the Demera is set on fire there is an inner feeling of brightness and by for all those that are around the Demra. Little Demera are also built at individual houses or villages

The festival considers with the mass blooming of the golden yellow Meskel daisies called as Aday Ababa in Amharic: symbolically herding the advent of New Year after the rainy season is over.
The best place to see the Meskel Festival is in the capital Addis Ababa at the famous Meskel Square. But all along the classical route (Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum, and Lalebela) and in other major towns, the ceremony is colorfully celebrated and one can experience it colorfully.

Kullubi- Feast of St Gabriel, 28 December

St Gabriel is the Patron Saint who guards over homes and churches in Christian believes. There is a huge pilgrimage to St Gabriel's Church on Kulubi hill, which is on the route from Addis Ababa eastwards, about 70 kilometers before Dire Dawa. Many pilgrims carry heavy burdens as penance, children are brought to be baptized, and offerings are made to be distributed to the poor. It is celebrated colorfully in Kulibi town.

ETHIOPIAN CHRISTMAS - Genna ( 7 January)

Christmas is a major holiday in Ethiopia where more than half of the population is Orthodox Christian. Ethiopia still retains the ancient Julian calendar so Ethiopian Christmas celebration  falls on December 29 Ethiopian calendar (January 7th of the Gregorian calendar)-a hot summer's day when people in towns and villages dress up in their finest to celebrate this important festival.

The Ethiopian name given to Christmas is Ledet or Genna, on the other hand, according to elders, comes from the word Gennana (eminent) to express the coming of the Lord and the freeing of mankind from his sins. After 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 AM and lasts until 9 AM. Christmas is colorfully celebrated in Lalibela (The Second Jerusalem) and many people from all over the country pilgrim on foot and by different means of transportations to share the blessing. The chanting and dancing made by the priest using drums and Cestrum around the rock-hewn churches is breathtaking. After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken, lamb or beef accompanied with injera(Ethiopian fermented bread) and the traditional drinks (i.e. Tella or Tej).

Genna is also the name given to a hockey-like ball game. Legend has it that when shepherds heard of the birth of Christ they rejoiced and started playing the game with their sticks. Men and boys in villages now play the traditional Genna game with great enthusiasm in the late afternoon of Christmas day-a spectacle much enjoyed by village communities and the elders who referee the game. However, in a country where religion is strongly interwoven with the lifestyles of its people, Genna festivities begin earlier in the day, as early as 6 A.M when people gather in churches for mass. Everyone stands throughout the service of worship for up to three hours. The clergy and different scholars versed in the liturgy and music of the church lift their voices in hymn and chant just as it has been for over a thousand years when Ethiopia accepted Christianity.

Timkat- Baptism of Christ, 19 January

This is an extremely colourful festival in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church for the remembrance of the baptism of Jesus Christ by Saint John in the Jordan River. Epiphany is celebrated in Ethiopia on January 11 Ethiopian calendar January 19 Gregorian calendar(or January 20 once in every four years when it is a leap year), two weeks after Ethiopian Christmas. The night before, priests take the Tabot (which symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments) from each Church. Concealed by an ornamental cloth, it is taken to a tent, close to a consecrated pool or stream, accompanied by much worshipers, ringing of bells, blowing of trumpets and the burning of incense. In Addis Ababa many tents are pitched at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city centre. At night there is a Mass, and crowds attend, with picnics lit by oil lamps. At dawn the priest extinguishes a candle burning on a pole set in a nearby river using a ceremonial cross. Some of the congregation leap into the river. The Tabots except St. Michael's church, start their way back to their respective churches. The priests, deacons continue up to the end of the day. The elders marching solemnly, accompanied by horsemen, singing, leaping of priests and young men, the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalls the ancient rites of the Old Testament (11 Sam.Chap.6) The next day, 20 Jan, is feast of Michael the Archangel, Ethiopia's most popular saint. And it is only in this morning it is returned to his church, again on its way is accompanied by the feast, singing and dancing of priests and locals with their colorful dressing. Thus ends the three-day celebration, a unique ceremony of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the world. Timket, truly is the most spectacular of Ethiopia's festival. This festival is celebrated all over the country but the celebrations at Lalibela, Gondar and Addis Ababa are exceptional.
Fasika, Ethiopian Easter Sunday (Variable)

The most important period of the year for Orthodox Christian in Ethiopia is the lent fast leading up to the Easter feast. Easter known as Fasika, could fall in the Ethiopian months of Megabit(March) or Miazia(April), the date varying by more than a month. Sometimes Ethiopian Easter coincides Easter in the rest of the Christian world. Fasting goes for longest continuous fasting period lasting 55 days known as Hudade or Abye Tsome (‘Great Fast’) with no meat, milk products or egg are consumed during these days. Easter in Ethiopia falls at last on Sunday. The final week of pains is marked by 10 service hours every day with the specified readings from the Pslam, Gospels, miracle of Jesus and Holy Mother Mary. On Good Friday, churches are decorated with hangings and brocades, and the crucifix is covered by a curtain. During the holy Saturday, Abolition of the Sabbath, people wash themselves and their clothes for performing prostrations in the church compound.

The Great Ethiopian Run (Variable)

The Great Ethiopian Run is an annual 10-kilometre road running event which is worth looking out for takes place each late November in Addis Ababa.

The competition was first envisioned by neighbors Ethiopian runner  Haile Gebresellasie, Peter Middle brook and Abi Masefield in late October 2000, following Haile's return from the 2000 Summer Olympic. The creation of the race marked the first time that a major annual 10 km race had been held in the country, renowned for producing world class runners. The days events include an international and popular 10 km race and a 5 km women only race. Elite race attracts a number of prominent runners. Haile Gebrselassie won the inaugural men's race and at the second edition many of the countries top long distance runners competed.

The race is known for highlighting the best of Ethiopia's up-and-coming running talent – many of the race's podium finishers, little-known at the time, have gone on to achieve success on the global stage and has become one of famous international even which attracts native international runners.

Music and Films Festivals

The music of Ethiopia, in diverse blend of the traditional and the contemporary, of exotic and indigenous styles are ranked as one of Africa’s greatest undiscovered musical legacies. The Ethiopian Film Festival takes place each May, while the southerly city of Arba Minch is known for its music and dance celebrations at the end of the year.


(commemorates the victory by Menelik II over Italy in 1896) 2 March

(celebrates end of Italian occupation in 1941) 6 April

May (variable)

(end of month of fasting for Ramadan) May (variable)

August (variable)


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