Merry Christmas…I Mean Ganna!

What’s that you say?  Christmas was two weeks ago?

Try telling that to the Ethiopians.  Halfway around the world, they are celebrating Christmas-called Ganna-today!

Ganna is not about gifts.  If gifts are exchanged at all, they are small and practical, such as an article of clothing.  The season is one of religious observations, feasting, and games.

On the eve of Ganna, people fast all day.  Very early on special day- around 4am- people dress in a white robe called a shamma.  The celebration looks kind of like those toga parties we went to in college, only with a lot less beer and a lot more prayer.

They then head to mass.  Outside the city, most Ethiopians live in round, mud plaster houses with straw roofs.  The churches reflect this look.  The modern churches have three circles.  The worshipers are handed a lighted candle as they enter, and the congregation walks around the outermost circle three times.  They then move to the middle circle, where they remain standing for the long (several hours) mass.  The boys and men are separated from the girls and women.  The inner circle is reserved for the Holy Communion.

Around the time of Ganna, a game also called ganna is commonly played.  According to local tradition, the shepherds played this game when they heard of Jesus’ birth.  The game is similar to hockey with a curved stick and a round ball made of wood or leather.  The ball is heavy and can easily knock a player out- the game has high injury potential!

Ganna is also a time for feasting on traditional foods, such as injera with wat.  I’m a somewhat picky eater but really like Ethiopian food and would invite all of you to try it!  Injera is multi-functional.  It has the spongy texture of a pancake and is used as a plate and an edible spoon.  Wat is a spicy combination of meat and vegetables.  Most big cities have at least one Ethiopian restaurant, usually owned by someone who was raised in Ethiopia.  I like ones with buffets so you can try a bit of everything.  Check it out!

January 19th marks the beginning of a three day holiday called Timkat, which celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.  Everyone dresses in traditional dress, and priests carry fringed umbrellas.  They march to church services in procession.  Musicians practice long hours on traditional instruments to provide the sounds that give Timkat a festive feel.

It’s January 7th and my Christmas tree is down, the presents I received are put away, and the goodies have been eaten.  But the country I love across the ocean is just beginning the celebration!  Merry Ganna!

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