The Ethiopian Calendar is seven years behind the Gregorian Calendar now used in the west. Ethiopia, having never been colonised, still uses the Julian Calendar. The year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each, and a 13th month of five days (six days every leap year). See the New Year page for more information about the measurement of time.
Ethiopian Christmas day is on January 7th of the Gregorian Calendar or Tahsas 29th of the Ethiopian Calendar. This is the date that Christmas was originally celebrated and still is in most Orthodox Christian traditions.
Ethiopian names for Christmas are Liddet, Genna and also Qiddus Bala Wald.
Genna is preceded by a fast of 40 days. There are many fast days in the Orthodox Christian Calendar. Christians fast every Wednesday and Friday all year round. On fast days Ethiopians eat only one meal in the evening. This must not contain meat or dairy foods. Sometimes fish is also avoided.
After a large meal on Christmas Eve, Ethiopian Christians go to Church and spend the night praying. Modern Churches are designed in three concentric circles. Men and boys sit separately from women and girls. The choir sings from the outside circle. As the people enter the church they are given candles which are then lit. Everyone then walks around the church three times. The congregation remain standing for Mass which can last up to three hours.
Food eaten at Christmas is the standard Ethiopian menu of injera, a pancake like bread made from a local grain called t’ef, and wat, a spicy stew. The injera is used to scoop up the wat. The meal is served in beautifully decorated baskets.
Only the children receive presents. This is usually something simple such as clothes. Children also play a game at this time of year called Genna. It is similar to hockey.
And here is a short video clip of a Genna celebration in Ethiopia.