Many of the popular festivals in Ethiopia have ceremonial connotations. After all, it is a country that maintains its traditions intact, because the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has never been colonised.
Seventy per cent of the population is Christian, among them are Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics. Twenty nine per cent are Muslims, and only one per cent preserve the traditional beliefs. Nonetheless, a large part of the Ethiopian population follows Rastafarianism or the Rastafari Movement.
But let’s take a deeper look at the popular festivals in Ethiopia, when they are celebrated and what they consist of, so that you can start taking notes about them.
January - Genna or Orthodox Christmas
During the month of January, Ethiopia celebrates the Genna or Orthodox Christmas on the 7th of January. For this celebration, Ethiopians fast for the whole of the previous day in order to prepare their body and spirit for the celebration. On the 7th of January they dress in the shamma, which is a traditional white dress with coloured stripes, and they attend church.
On this day, the families get together to share traditional Christmas food which consists of a meat and vegetable stew, and they drink tej (a fermented honey drink) or tella (maize beer).
February - Festival of Sacrifice or Eid ul Adha
The Ethiopian event which stands out in February is the Festival of Sacrifice, or Eid ul Adha. This is a Muslim celebration that commemorates the moment in which Abraham decided to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God.
The celebration includes the sacrifice of an animal, normally a sheep or cow. The animal offering is prepared, prayers are said in the mosques and people wear their best clothes.
March - Battle of Adowa or Y’adowa B’al
March is the month when the battle of Adowa, or Y’adowa B’al is celebrated. This is when Italy signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa through which the independence of Ethiopia (which was then known as Abyssinia) took place. As in all festivities celebrating the day of national independence, Ethiopians carry out commemorative activities throughout the country.
April - Orthodox Easter Monday
In April there are two main festivals: The Orthodox Easter Monday on the 12th and the Coptic Holy Friday on the 25th. Each of these festivals corresponds to a different religion, and because of this, they are celebrated in different locations.
May - Mulud
During the month of May, more specifically the 2nd of May, Muslim Ethiopians celebrate Mulud. This date commemorates the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet. For this reason, it is a religious celebration.
The 5th of May on the other hand, celebrates the day of Patriots, or Arbegnoch Qen. This event commemorates the moment in which the Italian Forces surrendered and the Ethiopian Emperor returned to power once again.
Summer months: June, July and August
During the summer in Ethiopia, depending on the locality, you can attend different ceremonies and traditional festivities.
In July, for example, Buhe is celebrated. This is the oldest festival in Ethiopia, where children are the protagonists. They make whips the previous night and go from door to door asking for bread or pasta. In the meantime, they sing, dance and strike their whips against the soil with force. As night falls, fires are lit and the festivities continue around the fires.
During the month of August, in the north of the country, the Ashenda, or Assumption of Mary, is celebrated. This time, the protagonists are the young women and girls. At this festival, the girls adorn themselves with jewellery and sing, dance and take part in games. Drums form part of this celebration, and donations collected from their performances are taken to their churches.
September - Festival Meskel
The Meskel Festival takes place on the 27th of September. During this festival Ethiopians adorned in brightly-coloured clothing burn a cross made of flowers. The festival commemorates the revelation of Queen Helena who, according to tradition, was the person who found the cross of Jesus Christ.
Ethiopians prepare a cross made of coloured daisies and twigs, which they carry in a procession. Once the end of the procession is reached they make an enormous fire around the cross and they burn it. It is, without doubt, a festival which you won’t see anywhere else in the world. During this same month, another very popular Ethiopian festival is celebrated, the Ethiopian New Year.
Rest of the year
One of the most traditional popular festivals of Ethiopia, which you shouldn’t miss, is the Bula Ukuli, or passage into adulthood for the young males. In this festival, the youths jump over livestock as a way of reinforcing their social status and showing they are available for marriage.
The Donga, or Surma Lucha Stick, is another celebration with very distant origins, during which the young men of the tribe face each other in ferocious battles. After the harvest, the young men compete to demonstrate their masculinity and to acquire a wife.
As you can see, Ethiopia is a melting pot of festivities, due to the mix of cultures and religions. When you prepare your journey to this fantastic country, don’t forget to keep a few days to get to know its most characteristic traditions and popular festivals.