On Monday and Tuesday, I celebrated Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year, with my neighbors and host family in Holeta. Ethiopia has its own calendar that is based on the Coptic calendar (which itself is based on the Egyptian calendar). The Ethiopian calendar begins in September and features a 13th month, Pagume, which lasts five or six days, depending on the leap year cycle. The Ethiopian calendar, also called the Ge’ez calendar, also utilizes a different calculation to establish the Annunciation of Jesus Christ and, therefore, is currently in the year 2005.
On New Year’s Eve, I had a coffee ceremony with my neighbors, and then we went outside to light a 7-foot bundle of sticks and sing a traditional song about the New Year. In Ethiopian culture, cattle are a sign of wealth, so the New Year’s song goes, “In the upcoming year, may you have 30 calves,” meaning “may you be prosperous.”
While we were attempting to burn our stick bundle, which kept going out because of the damp weather, I introduced the American tradition of New Year’s resolutions. We took turns sharing our resolutions for the upcoming year, and my neighbors’ included applying for PhD programs and beginning new work (which is also my resolution!).
Interestingly, though, all four of my friends (ranging in age from 20 to 32) said they intend to get married in the next year. It highlighted for me a difference in our cultures. Despite the fact that I am nearing the older end of our age range, I can’t say marriage is on my radar.
The next morning, after having breakfast with my neighbors, I went to my host family’s for a coffee ceremony, and then we all danced to traditional and modern Ethiopian songs in their living room. My host brothers and sisters are particularly talented dancers, and I was humbled by how well my 12-year-old sister can shake her shoulders!
On the world stage, the Ethiopian government, which recently lost its leader of 21 years, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, marked the New Year with its annual pardoning of prisoners.