Monday, January 7, 2008

Happy Christmas...

Today is Christmas in Ethiopia.


The Ethiopian Christmas, known locally as Ganna after a hockey-like game the shepherds played when Jesus was born, usually falls on the old Julian calendar date of 7 January. The celebration has a gently festive air, especially on Christmas Eve in Addis, where people gather to eat, drink and dance.
Christmas is generally not that important in Ethiopia. This is partly because Orthodox Christianity is more centered around Mary than Christ, but most importantly because death is considered more significant than birth, hence Easter is a much larger religious occasion than Christmas. Only very dedicated Christians fast before Christmas, whereas almost all fast before Easter.

Many people follow the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian approach. On Christmas Eve, a religious ceremony takes place in all Orthodox Christian churches throughout the Ethiopian highlands. The ceremonies are long and involve the whole congregation. Priests dance sedately, swaying side to side in time with their sistrums (percussion instruments), while young men dance around a drummer, leaping and jumping, achieving an almost trance-like state. The ceremony begins sedately and builds up through the night into a crescendo, the music from the church being heard far and wide until the early hours of the morning.

In most towns, Christmas Day itself is largely a family affair, with the occasional game of Ganna being played in the afternoon.

And from howstuffworks:

Around the time of Ganna, the men and boys play a game that is also called ganna. It is somewhat like hockey, played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball.

The foods enjoyed during the Christmas season include wat, a thick, spicy stew of meat, vegetables, and sometimes eggs as well. The wat is served from a beautifully decorated watertight basket onto a "plate" of injera, which is flat sourdough bread. Pieces of injera are used as an edible spoon to scoop up the wat.

Twelve days after Ganna, on January 19, Ethiopians begin the three-day celebration called Timkat, which commemorates the baptism of Christ. The children walk to church services in a procession. They wear the crowns and robes of the church youth groups they belong to. The grown-ups wear the shamma. The priests will now wear their red and white robes and carry embroidered fringed umbrellas.

The music of Ethiopian instruments makes the Timkat procession a very festive event. The sistrum is a percussion instrument with tinkling metal disks. A long, T-shaped prayer stick called a makamiya taps out the walking beat and also serves as a support for the priest during the long church service that follows. Church officials called dabtaras study hard to learn the musical chants, melekets, for the ceremony.

Ethiopian men play another sport called yeferas guks. They ride on horseback and throw ceremonial lances at each other.

Ganna and Timkat are not occasions for giving gifts in Ethiopia. If a child receives any gift at all, it is usually a small gift of clothing. Religious observances, feasting, and games are the focus of the season.

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