Enkutatash: Ethiopian New Year
New Year's Eve
From: Tuesday, September 11 2007, 1:00 pm
to: Wednesday, September 12 2007, 1:00 am
Ethiopia's New Year?s Day (or Enkutatash) is celebrated in mid-September towards the end of the big rains. Unlike the 1 January, which is comparatively arbitrary, New Year?s Day in Ethiopia marks a new season and a new beginning.
The grass is green, the sun has come out, and there is fresh food to be harvested. Apart from the cyclical explanation for the timing of Ethiopian New Year, there is also a legend which maintains that Enkutatash is celebrated to commemorate the return of Queen Sheba from Jerusalem.
According to the legend, Queen Sheba returned from visiting King Solomon in Jerusalem and was welcomed by her chiefs with a ?gift of jewels? (Enkutatash). Since then, it is said that the occasion has been celebrated yearly. Nowadays in Addis Ababa, New Year?s Eve is spent feasting and partying. However, traditionally, the eve of New Year was not really celebrated in Ethiopia but was spent preparing for the next day?s feast.
On New Year?s Day, the house is decorated with yellow Meskal daisies. Children make gifts of colourful paintings or spring flowers to give to their family and friends (and increasingly also to strangers in return for bread or sweets). Girls, dressed in their new Ethiopian dresses and armed with a kabero (small drum), go from house to house singing a special Enkutatash song, in return for some money.
The main religious celebration takes place in the 14th-century Kostete Yohannes church in the town of Gaynt, in the Gondar region. Three days of prayers, psalms, hymns and sermons, and massive colourful processions mark the advent of the New Year. Closer to Addis Ababa, the Raguel Church, on top of the Entoto Mountain north of the city, has the largest and most spectacular religious celebration. However, Enkutatash is not really a religious holiday. It is primarily a family occasion. There is a festive mood in the air, but it is modest in comparison to Meskal, which takes place later the same month.
The Ethiopian calendar is, like the ancient Egyptian one, based on lunar cycles and differs from the belatedly altered Christian calendars. There are 13 months in a year, all of which have 30 days, apart from the 13th month which has either 5 or 6 days (the date of New Year's Day therefore varies slightly from year to year - check before you go...).