Ethiopia (and especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) still use the old Julian calendar, so they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, not December 25th! The Christmas celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called Ganna. Most people go to Church on Christmas day. Many people fast (don’t eat anything) on Christmas Eve (January 6th). At dawn on the morning of Ganna, people get dressed in white. Most people wear a traditional garment called a shamma. It’s a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends. It’s worn like a toga. If you live in a big town or city you might wear ‘western’ clothes. The early Ganna mass starts at 4.00am! The design of Ethiopian Church is similar to the houses. In the country, they are often very old and have been carved out of rock. In cities, modern churches are built in three circles, each within the others.
The choir sings from the outer circle. Everyone who goes to church for the Ganna celebrations is given a candle. The people walk around the church three times in a solemn procession, holding the candles. They then go to the second circle to stand during the service. The men and boys are separated from the women and girls. The center circle is the most important and holy place in the church and is where the priest serves the Holy Communion or mass.
The annual celebration of Genna on January 7 commemorates the birthday of Christ. It is also the break of the fasting period of usually known as Tsoma Nebiat (Fasting of the Prophets). In the town of Lalibeal, the colorful celebration of Ethiopian Christ Mass coincides with the birthday of king Lalibela, who the credit for the construction of eleven rock hewn churches approximately 800 years ago. Around the time of Ganna, the men and boys play a game that is also called ganna. It’s played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball, a bit like hockey.
Traditional Christmas foods in Ethiopia include wat which is a thick and spicy stew that contains meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs (sounds yummy!). Wat is eaten on a ‘plate of injera’ – a flat bread. Pieces of the injera are used as an edible spoon to scoop up the wat.