On September 12, Ethiopians will be celebrating the dawn of a new year – 2004. For the initiated this may sound anomalous but Ethiopia, a country of more than 80 million people, is behind time… literally.
The Horn of Africa country uses its own calendar and for them it is still 2003 which began on September 11, 2010 of the Gregorian calendar. There is a 276 year difference between the Ethiopic and Coptic calendars.
In spite of this, the Ethiopic calendar is closely associated with the rules and the different calculations influenced by the Coptic church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido church.
Based on the ancient Coptic calendar, the Ethiopian Calendar is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, owing to alternate calculations in determining the date of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Ethiopia’s New Year (Enkutatash) means the “gift of jewels”.
The Enkutatash tradition dates back to the time when the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem.
Her chiefs are believed to have welcomed her by showering her with gifts of jewels or inku. But Enkutatash is not exclusively a religious holiday.
The spring festival, which has been celebrated since early times, also symbolises the end of the rainy season accompanied by dancing and singing a cross the green countryside.
It is also the season for exchanging formal New Year greetings and cards among the urban sophisticated as well as the traditional bouquet of flowers.
Ethiopia’s use of a different calendar has always confused foreigners visiting the country.
Keeping appointments with locals is more often than not a nightmare for foreign visitors, who are always encouraged to make it clear when they are making appointments with locals on whether they are referring to local or European time.
For example, Europeans who unknowingly fix appointments for 9 am are surprised when their Ethiopian counterparts turn up at 9 pm.
Ethiopians who usually don’t use the ante meridian (am) and post meridian (pm) timing begin their day at 01 am and end at 12 pm, which is sunset local time.
With the New Year approaching, Ethiopians have already shifted into a festive mood.
The dawn of the New Year, no matter how tough the situation in the country might be, has some power to make people believe that things will turn out for the better. For many Ethiopians, it is a time when new resolutions are considered.
And when the New Year arrives, people seem to wish to change not only things they have control over, but also things out of the sphere of their reach.
In the meantime, many Ethiopians have been busy shopping ahead of the celebrations. In Addis Ababa, home to around five million people, the celebrations are already under way as shown by the busy streets.
And for most Ethiopians, Christian and Muslim alike, it is a must to slaughter a sheep or goat. It is also a time when the Ethiopian traditional chicken stew is most popular in kitchens cross the country.
Ethiopians spend their new year, mainly at home partaking in traditional food and drink. It is usually the women’s task to prepare food and drinks while men are tasked with the urchasing of goats or sheep as well as providing money to buy gifts for the holiday.
Men as heads of families are also supposed to slaughter the sheep or goat early in the morning of the New Year.
The climax of the New Year celebration is when most Ethiopians finally make resolutions for the year ahead. It is common place for people to resolve to stop indulging in unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking beer.
Mesfin Mekonnen (36), a father of one hopes to stop smoking next year. “It is really my hope to completely stop smoking in the New Year,” he says. “I promised myself, my wife and son. So 2004 will be a good year for my family.”
Like Mekonnen, Tizita Tesema (27) who works for a private company, 2004 will be a special year. “I am preparing to get married. That is one of my plans for the New Year,” Tesema aid.
But while many resolutions are made, most are broken as Ethiopians usually never live up to them.
Mekuria Berhanu says he has failed to stop smoking and chewing Khat (a popular stimulant leaf in East Africa and Yemen) for the past two years despite resolving to stop for the past two years. “I still keep smoking and chewing Khat despite my resolutions to stop. However, I am determined to stop in 2004,” Berhanu said.
Ethiopians in the Diaspora are also returning home to celebrate the New Year.
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