Ethiopian New Year Date: September 11
Ethiopian New Year is a Public Holiday in Ethiopia.
Enkutatash or Ithiopian (Ethiopian) New Year is celebrated on September 11th according to the Western or Gregorian calendar. Ethiopia still follows the Orthodox Julian calendar which consists of 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month, Pagume, of five or six days, depending on whether or not it is a leap year. The Ithiopian calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar, so September 2001 is Meskerem 1994 in Ethiopia.
History of Ethiopian New Year
Enkutatash is an important festival in the lives of Ithiopians. After three months of heavy rains the sun comes out creating a beautiful clear fresh atmosphere. The highland fields turn to gold as the Meskal daisies burst into flower. When Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, returned to Ethiopia after her famous visit to King Solomon, her chiefs welcomed her forward by giving her “enku” or jewels. Enkutatash which means “gift of jewels”‘ has been celebrated ever since inspring. Meskerem is seen as a month of transition from the old year to the new. It is a time to express hopes and dreams for the future.
Ethiopia still retains the Julian calendar, in which the year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of 5 days and 6 days in leap year. The Ethiopian calendar is 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7 years behind between September 11 and January 8. Enkutatash means the “gift of jewels”. When the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her bolts by replenishing her treasury with inku or jewels. The spring festival has been celebrated since this early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside.
But Enkutatash is not exclusively a religious holiday. Today’s Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal new year greetings and cards among the urban sophisticated – in lieu or the traditional bouquet of flowers.The way Ethiopians measure time is also different from the West. The clock starts at 6am western time and runs until 6pm. Therefore 8o’clock in western time would be 2o’clock Ethiopian time. Because Ethiopia is close to the Equator the sun rises at around 00.30 Ithiopian time and sets at around 12.45 in the evening (6.45 western equivalent) all year round. Ethiopia is 3 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).
Ethiopian New Year Traditions, Customs and Activities
The largest religious celebration is in the 14th-century Kostete Yohannes church in the city of Gaynt in the Gondar Region. For 3 days the sounds of psalms, sermons, prayers and hymns can be heard as colourful processions welcome the New Year. There is a large celebration nearer to Addis Abeba, the capital, at the Ragual Church on Entoto mountain.
On New Year’s Eve, torches of dry leaves and wood bundled in the form of tall and thick sticks are also set on fire in front of houses as the young and old sing. Early in the morning everybody goes to Church wearing traditional Ethiopian clothing. After Church there is a family meal of Injera (flat bread) and Wat (stew). The girls go from house to house singing New Year songs for money and the boys sell pictures that they have drawn. In the evening families go to visit their friends and drink tella the traditional Ethiopian beer. While the elders discuss their hopes for the New Year the children go and spend the money they have earned. In more recent times it has also become usual for well-to-do city dwellers to send each other New Year greetings cards instead of the more traditional bunches of flowers.