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Celebrating age old Christmas
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and is celebrated in different ways in various parts of the world. But the style of celebrating Christmas in the western world seems to have become dominant as the rest of the world mimics the commercialized theme of Western Christmas.
Setting up Christmas trees, dressing up as Santa Clause and hanging up green socks for presents have become an integrated part of Christmas celebration in Ethiopia .
How did Christmas come to be celebrated in Ethiopia , why do we put up trees and dress like Santa and other questions cross through the minds of many Ethiopians who still want to preserve the traditional way of celebrating this holiday.
Capital talked to Professor Richard Pankhurst, a celebrated historian who shared his own views of how the western world has a strong influence on Christmas celebrations around the world, among other issues.
Ethiopian Calendar Neither Gregorian Nor Julian
Capital - When would you say the custom of celebrating Christmas began in Ethiopia ?
Professor Richard Pankhurst - We believe that Ethiopia turned to Christianity during the time of the Apostles, certainly we can prove it came at the start of the 4th century when the cross of Christ appeared in Axum . This means that Ethiopia could have celebrated Christmas from the beginning, meaning that it was an age old custom.
It is believed that Ethiopia turned to Christianity during the time of Emperor Ezana because we see coins of Ezana with the moon and sun where he used to worship the gods that came from Arabia, but we also saw coins of Ezana with the cross, meaning that he converted Ethiopia to Christianity.
Do you know why there is a difference between the way Ethiopia and the rest of the world celebrate Christmas, especially in the date and year?
The difference is nothing but a different way of using the calendar than the western world. But it is not just Ethiopia that celebrates Christmas differently from the rest of the world Churches in the Eastern horizon also celebrate Christmas on the same day as Ethiopia . The Coptic church of Egypt , churches in Russia , Romania and other Eastern countries. These countries celebrate Christmas and Easter on the same days because they have the same way of counting the days that lead up to the two holidays.
Considering the fact that Ethiopia heard of Jesus Christ at about the same time as the western world, would it mean that the difference in calendars came before or after Christ?
Ethiopia would actually have heard about Christ before many countries because Christianity came here very early. Because the Armenians were the first to adopt the Christian churches and Ethiopia is the second with a few years difference between them, meaning that the difference in date has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.
Being an age old culture, do you think that it is the most celebrated holiday in such a religious country like Ethiopia ?
Though an age old celebration in Ethiopia , Christmas is not all that important than holidays such as Meskel and Timket where they are celebrated in a much more colorful and enlightened spirit.
If you also see what goes on during the Christmas celebrations, the game of Gena is the most interesting thing. Though it is the most important part of the traditional culture, it is a game that is falling out, but is still seen in some parts of the country.
Why do you consider Timket or Meksel to be more important holidays than Christmas? What historical or traditional relationship do you see as to how the holidays are celebrated?
I don't mean to say that it is a less important holiday, but there is more activity during those holidays. If you look at the Easter celebration, there is this big feast following the big fasting period that is taken seriously by the Christians. More spectacular things are seen during the Timket celebrations and of course Meskel. There is nothing to indicate about a religious difference in the celebrations, but the fact that Meskel comes following a long rainy period could have had a climatic influence on the traditional celebration.
Speaking of the game of Gena, how do you think it started and why is it being forgotten these days? What exactly does the game have to do with the celebration of Christmas?
The simple reason is that life is changing. For example, in the old days the nobility used to play Centourage or the traditional chess, but now it is all forgotten. People might play the modern type of chess, but as for the traditional one it is literally dead, as only a few people did. I was studying about this game and few people in this generation have even heard of it or that it was played by nobility.
It is the same with Gena, as it is not being widely played these days. Gena was not a game of the nobility. As a matter of fact, it was a game of the public, but its popularity is gone. As for its relationship with Christmas, there is no relationship between the game and the holiday, it is just that the game was played around the Christmas season.
The reason for the game not being passed down to this generation is that the younger generation is developing new interests as this is an age of new computer games and other, more intersting games. I am not saying that newer games are not important, but the old ones are also important, especially in the case of Centourage. It is amazing how few people know about it. This game probably came from China and moved to India and on to Arabia and then to Ethiopia and in time, it developed in one way and after moving to Europe, it developed in a different way.
If the game of Gena was to be brought back in a more developed and sophisticated way, do you think that this generation's imagination could be ignited?
I think that it would be worth trying and that it would go a long way in helping preserve the culture. Looking at Gena as it is, it might not be attractive, but put in a more modern way, it could be as exciting as football, though I am not a huge fan of football.
What do you feel when thinking of Christmas these days? Do you see changes in the way Ethiopian Christmas is celebrated due to western influence?
Now-a-days, Christmas has become so much more about giving presents than playing Gena here in Ethiopia as it is following the culture of the western world. In the countryside, Christmas is still celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ, but in the towns it is changing. What you have in the west is that the celebration of Christmas used to be in December only, now opening of shops for Christmas has moved up to November and October, to get the maximum sales period. The holiday has become commercialy orientated.
But one has to understand that culture changes everywhere in the world as people change and this is exactly what is hapenning. One has to be proud of what he/she has and in that case, one has to perpetuate and preserve what one can so that when change comes, even though people are getting interested in new games the old Ethiopian games are still preserved. A simple example is the amazing development of football which is not traditional in Ethiopia , but people still watch that game with fascination.
Putting up Christmas trees and dressing up as Santa Clause has become synonymous with celebrating Christmas here in Ethiopia . Is it our culture to incorporate Christmas trees and Santa for the holiday?
It is definitely not Ethiopian culture. Even in the west, it is not their culture, they took it from Germany . When Queen Victoria 's husband was in Germany , he saw a Christmas tree and he brought the culture to his homeland and that is how it spread and besides, it is not as old as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, it is not even close. It is also the same with Christmas cards as it is relatively new. Though it is not the culture of Ethiopia , there are many beautiful Ethiopian Christmas cards that show Ethiopian scenes made by Ethiopian artists, and though not traditional, Ethiopian Christmas cards are something to be proud of.
Talking about the Christmas trees, I believe that they are wasteful traditions, down to the cutting of trees for the purpose. It would be better to use plastic ones because every year more and more people build these trees and more and more of these trees are cut down without any replacement, trees are very important in terms of preserving soil and the environment as well. Looking at Christmas trees in terms of celebrating the holiday, there is nothing Christian about them and they are pagan in the sense that they have nothing to do with Christianity.
Christmas these days has become more of commerce in the western world and it is a simple example of how commercialized, capitalized and globalized the world is becoming and when the whole world becomes globalized it will have the same kind of people all over the world and we don't want that. We need to preserve our heritages and traditions so that we will have a sense of who we are.
Melkam Genna to all of us, even if it is past. Mta mta…begena chiwata ayikotum geta.
The birth of Chirst is celebrated in a very elaborate religious way in the Ethiopian Church. Actually, the faithful fast 40 days (this year) prior to Lidet (Brith of Christ). The fasting is part of the meditating season where the faithful long for His second coming.
Celebrating the birth of Christ wearing as Santa taints our religious values while it is suicidal to our cultural values. “Imitation is suicide.” Emerson.
Yetebareke Gena, Qidus Temeket to all!
Spirituality and our Faith is our ultimate power!
God bless Ethiopia!!!
Happy Christamas for true elected leader of Ethiopia who are in prision.
Happy new year for leaders with vision and dream for Ethiopian childers and grand childens.
Your struggle and leadership has grand nobe idea that does not fail the idea of governemet by the people for the people.
Thank you for your sacrifies the evil will pass with its lie and decite.
Merry Christmas To Everyone:
Well, reading the above post put me in a reflective mood. Especially on the topics of peace and development for the long suffering peoples of our home country.
What is the goal, what is the reality, what did not work, what will work? These are questions I can not hope to answer by myself.
But it bothers me that here is a nation which has a potential to feed all of Africa ten times over every year; yet its citizens live under the cloud of hunger and kills 200,000 of its infants due to malnoutrition, every year!
Soil erosion, deforestation, general land degradation, absence of irrigation, absence of any large scale privately owned farm etc are the results of the land policy at existence. When government owns the land, it is simply a given the peole become neglectful towards the land due to the fact that they feel disempowered.
The empowering of the individual is, in my opinion, the key to the way forward. If hunger is to be defeated and the Ethiopian nation is to become THE bread basket of Africa - a progressive break with the past is in order.
Group rights should be disemphasised. Ethnicism as a defensive philosophy, I agree with. Ethncism as an aggresive, all consuming endeavor should be done away with once and for all.
I believe in the wisdom of the ages. In that regard, Ethiopians have achieved a very interesting stage of organization, which is highely abstract in its nature. Many people have trouble undersatnding it because in realty there is nothing that differentiates a piece of Ethiopian land from another land in another country. Ethnicism in this regard is a regression, not a progression, of a group of people who have a lot of difficulty understanding abstract thoughts. A mild form of the regressive spirit can be found in the one that tries to grapple with this new form of thought with the metaphor “mother land".
Ethiopia exists. There should be no doubt about that. Ethiopia may be abstract; nonetheless it exists. The existence of Ethiopia should not be put into question as it is a very fruitless endeavor. The existence of Ethiopia should not be tied to group rights or individual rights as it is illogical and will continue to shed the blood of the many. Group rights and individual rights should be thought of as Group right and individual rights because from what I observe, the illogical association of Existence with Rights, has not had any effect on both human rights and on ethnic based fights. Infact, it has aggravated the sitution.
Conflicts can not be reduced to zero. They can only be minmized. The existence of Ethiopia as a formalised entity has reduced the conflict that was rife in medeival Ethiopia based on ethnic irridentism. The wisdom of the ages has given birth to something more complex and more abstract that has in turn minimized violence. To think Ethiopia is a less important construct as opposed to the Ethnic nations is to go against the wisdom of the ages and open the gates for endless conflict.
End of reflection for the day.
Merry Christmas to one and all.
Professor Richard Pankhurst: it is good trying.
I did not Feel anything……..
First, Ethiopian culture, custom, religion, what ever it is conversation should exchange with our brilliant fathers and if you want to compare and contrast with others you have to set two individuals (One from who keep from the beginning and one from who you worship and sold yourself by rice as well as by money…. your father) I am really worried about the person who was posting and making this type of question!!!!!
Why do you consider Timket or Meksel to be more important holidays than Christmas… …..of course, Professor Richard Pankhurst trying his best
Professor …………”We believe that Ethiopia turned to Christianity during the time of the Apostles; certainly we can prove it came at the start of the 4th century when the cross of Christ appeared in Axum. This means that Ethiopia could have celebrated Christmas from the beginning, meaning that it was an age old custom.”
Oh really…… you believe that, …..you prove that, but I said we have our own documentary and challenger book where we started and existed. Go if you want our old monasteries.
Capital - When would you say the custom of celebrating Christmas began in Ethiopia?
Shame question ……. Are you asking who gives the whole his life to God by making his pillow; stone, his food; only one meal with in 24hr grasses and leave the sake of God, his house; forest, his light at the time of scared night in the remote and secrete area his God, or you asking who shows his ideology by testing and examining his expertise by radio active isotope? How dare you the coast of rice? (You are one of how the son of Jacob sold his moral to his brother and lost two times; putting your ideas by the name of Ethiopia. Let me tell you, professor, master who ever what ever it is have innovation can compare the person who was the right time and the right place? No………… but you show who you are “dedeb” Can any one dare to say it?
Profe……..”There is nothing to indicate about a religious difference in the celebrations, but the fact that Meskel comes following a long rainy period could have had a climatic influence on the traditional celebration.”
My God….. “gered keimbeto eblitalhu bila tanka motuche” I saw lightening on the clear sky is better than what you said….
The only people that celebrate Meskel are Ethiopian. Is it we really celebrate Meskel by traditionally weather condition? Is this the truth? Why do not you explain it what tornado or blizzard affect the country when and how? But the word of God to be completed we found our God cross and brought it to our land Ethiopia. That is why……. We have so many an explored history.
Anyway, Professor Richard Pankhurst: it is good trying, but you need to see seped time to expertise the whole point.
The person who you are trying post; it seems trying to pay the wage.
No people in Ethiopia who have at least the age of (Professor Richard Pankhurst ) who represent and replied the rice coast question?
We are serious and curious for everything based on the Identity of our History!!!!
The person who you post it Find your Identity. There are so many people out there who knows better than you and me in our territory!!!
God bless the world an Ethiopian professor Isaac Amen
you looks cool I love you brother!
Melkam Gena!! Egziabher yetebkacheu.
It is better to preserve our own culture. The west is nothing but commerce. Or values are thretened. Parents should teach their culture to their children rather than copying other culture. The west is still learning.
Gonder, you are very rude to say to Professor Richard Pankhurst about the comment. At least he was trying to discover about our country culture. Give him a little bit credit to him.
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