Ethiopian Christmas (Leddet)  January 6 and 7

Lalibela rock churchOne of the best times to come to Ethiopia is January a time in which Ethiopians have two major festivals of their own, Leddet (Christmas) which is held on Jan 7 and Timket (Epiphany) held on Jan 18/19.

Ethiopian Christmas has the Amharic word for it – Leddet,  meaning birth. The holiday is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ which among the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians it is celebrated following two months of fasting.

During the fasting season, people are abstained from any animal product like meat, milk, cow milk butter etc and stick to only veggie dishes. Those who are more devoted are not even eating until mid day or 3pm till the church’s afternoon prayer sessions are over.

I am not sure how many people in the west know Christmas is about Christ. And I doubt if most of the younger generation know about this at all.

But in Ethiopia, the historical and spiritual values are still given a high regard as religion is deeply integrated in the society. It is sometimes very difficult to see people thinking out of the frame of their religious mindset. And especially when it comes to holidays, people strictly adhere to the spiritual values.

In the Ethiopian orthodox churches, the celebration is held with a whole night vigil that ends around 3am in the morning. It is a colorful ceremonial service accompanied by singing and dancing by the priests, church choirs and attendees.

Outside the gates of the church court, a feast is prepared to break the two months long fasting. I use to enjoy there with my mother when I was a child…still has a good memories of it. Then after the church services are over, the festival continues at home and amongst the neighborhoods.

In most Ethiopian families, there are three things common to see during a holiday. A sheep is killed, a huge bread that could feed more than 30 people is baked, and tella (a traditional home made beer is brewed.

But still is common to see cultural Ethiopian dishes one of them is a mouth watering chicken stew, ‘tej’ an alcohol drink made with honey, wines, and sweets prepared for the feast.

On top of that neighborhoods buy an ox (called kircha) and share the meat amongst themselves. Note that Ethiopians are meat lovers especially the raw one.

In urban areas, families usually keep a European style Christmas tree decorated with various colorful stuffs and lights which of course not originally Ethiopian but some people loves it especially the children. At the country sides, the festival is accompanied by a traditional game called ‘Genna Chewata’.

A game resembling hockey except it is played on the ground. There is also one reserved for Ethiopian Christmas called ‘Feres Gugs’, a medieval style friendly fight in which players supposed to play it riding on a horse back.

Ethiopian Christmas – Ledet, is more colorful at Lalibela where the procession is held at the roof top edge of Bet Medhanialem, priests dressed with their colorful regalia and thousands of pilgrims attend the ceremony.

Being in Lalibela for Ethiopian Christmas gives you a great experience and an in-depth feel of spiritually. It could challenge your perspective about religion if you don’t have any as I have seen this on almost everyone who been there.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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