Christmas in Ethiopia

As you might recall from an earlier post, EMC Customer Service is sending CHF 25.00 for every submitted CSAT survey to a community center in Debre Berhan, Ethiopia. This donation guarantees a child all it needs for school for a quarter – schoolbooks or notebooks and writing utensils. From Q1 through to Q3 2013, EMC customers submitted 346 customer satisfaction surveys back to EMC. This results in a CHF 8’100 donation for Debre Berhan.
As 2013 is rapidly coming to an end by now, customers have asked us if people in Ethiopia celebrate Christmas at all, and if yes, how?

Today, about 45% of the population are Christians, 5% are Jews (claiming to be members of the lost jewish tribe of Dan), 30% are of Muslim belief and 20% are followers of animist traditions. Browsing back through history, we see the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum to be one of the first to adopt Christianity as a state religion, back in the 4th century A.D. – only 100 years later than the Roman Empire. Most of the Christians are members of the Coptic Church of Ethiopia, a church closely tied to the Coptic Church of Egypt, which is overseen by the Patriarch of Alexandria. Ethiopia’s patron is Saint George, and travelers can see pictures of him defeating the dragon in almost every household, public building and – of course – church.

In recent days, many Ethiopian families have adopted the western tradition of celebrating Christmas with Santa and the Christmas tree. Traditional families adhere to a rule of fasting prior to Lidet (Birth of Christ), the fasting being part of the meditating season where the faithful long for Christ’s second coming. At Lidet holiday, a typical Ethiopian menu includes a main course, such as doro wat (a spicy chicken stew), injera bread (Which is a flat round bread) and homemade wine or beer. The injera bread is used to scoop and eat the food, thereby replacing ordinary utensils.

Gift giving in an Ethiopian Christmas celebration is a very small part of this ceremony. Children, if they receive gifts, usually receive simple presents such as clothing. But, a very important part of the celebration is a sporting event called Genna.

This game is a form of field hockey in which sticks with hooks at one end are used. The game is played by having two opposing teams trying to outscore each other hitting a ball with their sticks. Usually, the sticks and balls are made from locally grown trees. In Ethiopia, the opposing teams often represent certain regions and the rivalry in these games can be intense. According to tradition, shepherds celebrated when they heard of Jesus’ birth by playing this game. Therefore, we authorized the Debra Berhan community center to use a part of the money for holiday activities, such as holding a Genna tournament. We do like the idea that whilst we are having the Spengler Cup in Davos, our friends and children in Debre Berhan have their Genna cup as well.

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