Melkam Gena / Happy Christmas
Christmas is coming and sheep is for the pot.
Onions need cutting and enjara pan is hot.
If you can’t afford a sheep a chicken will do.
If you can’t afford a chicken then God bless you.
This adaptation tells a few home truths about festivals in Ethiopia such as Gena:
mountains of onions are peeled, chopped fine and put in the pot. Enjara bread (pancakes) is baked on the eve of Gena with a big pile ready for the feast. People using electricity in the cities are nervous of power cuts or low power meaning the pan does not
get hot enough. And after the long fast that precedes Gena, everyone wants to eat meat. Best is to buy a sheep, but prices of sheep ahead of festivals has soared in recent years. A small sheep would not cost over $100 USD, for many that is a months salary or more. But a Doro wot- spicy chicken stew – is a favourite for the holiday. Yet even a chicken would cost around $10-15USD. So there are many families who will not be able to afford a chicken this holiday.
In most of Europe and the West, Christmas is the big family day, with presents, special foods, traditions to be followed. For many they will go to church and remember that it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for many more it has become a feast of consumerism and consumption.
In the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the traditional church in Ethiopia and the one that forms the framework of much of the culture of the country, there are several very important festivals throughout the year: Easter, Christmas, Timkat (the celebration of the baptism of Christ) and Meskal being the most important. Add to this new Year, which falls on 11th September in most years, and is very important to many although it is less of a religious day, and you can see that there are a good number of festivals through the year.
Feasting is part of all these holidays. It is also family time, with people returning to their mother’s home to enjoy real home cooking. Church is often attended during the night on the eve of the holiday, although with days like Timkat the church procession is a big part of the day’s events.
So where should you go to see Gena? If you attend any Orthodox church the night before you will witness the service and the mass. In Addis the church of Bale Wold by Selassie celebrates
Christmas on Christmas morning. If you have Ethiopian friends they will undoubtably invite you round to partake in the feast. Do bring round gifts of food: coffee, biscuits, fruit, cake, bottle of wine and the like are all acceptable presents.
Gena is most famous in Lalibela. But if you have not booked it you are too late. Accommodation fills up, (so there will be no room at the inn) and flights become full. Hotels and guides inflate their usual fees, so in addition it does become expensive.