In America we call it Christmas. In Ethiopia it’s called Ganna. And according to archaeologists, both began well before the official holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. For Americans, it’s a month of preparing with trees, cookies, gifts, and advent. For Ethiopian Christians, the time is more austere, with 43 days of church, fasting and sometimes, games.
Like in America, Ethiopians practice a variety of faiths including Islam, Judaism, and other traditional religions; however, Christianity is the country’s largest religion and it was officially adopted back in the 4th Century.
“People have been celebrating and practicing Christianity for centuries in Ethiopia,” says Abera Siyoum, a former Daily Work job seeker, current board member, and like so many Daily Work participants, an immigrant from Ethiopia. “We are one of the world’s oldest Christian countries.”
January 7 is Ethiopia’s official Ganna holiday according to the Gregorian calendar used by many Orthodox religions and regions around the world.
“People dress in white scarfs to go to church and are given a lit, white, candle,” says Abera. “I remember the church twinkling from everyone’s white clothes reflecting the candlelight.”
When fasting is over, Ganna is spent eating Doro Wat and visiting neighbor after neighbor in a series of elaborate coffee ceremonies and drinking T’ej, a honey wine.
“We’d play a game called Ganna,” says Abera. “Which is like hockey. You play with a curved stick and a ball.”
As for gift exchanges? No. Christmas is not a time for gifts in Ethiopia.
"Once children have jobs or businesses of their own, they are expected to provide for parents, not just on holidays, but throughout their lives, Abera said.
"On holidays you need to help people in need; even if you don’t have anything to spare you may open your door for them so they can come in to eat food and drink," he stated.
Now in America, Abera finds himself celebrating Christmas on December 25 and January 7, with his three kids (pictured above), opening presents on both holidays. “We get a tree and eat traditional Ethiopian food.” Abera wants his kids to understand and experience Ethiopian and American cultures. “I just don’t know how far I will go. We’ll see.” he said with a smile.
Abera's story demonstrates the wonderful tapestry of traditions surrounding Christmas, but it is just one among the many holidays and religions celebrated around the globe.
Join us in learning and talking about the myriad of wonderful stories, histories, religions, and holidays... and if you're celebrating Christmas today, we wish you a merry celebration.