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Ethiopian Easter

Published by nahom worku — 6 months ago

Blog: cheers to new horizons
Tags: General

Hello dear readers, this time around I will be writing about something very actual that is going on these days, especially in this week. For some it is a mere excuse for a simple get-together with family and friends, while for others it is considered to be one of the most important Christian festivities of all. Unless you live under a rock or something, by now you shold be aware of today's main topic. But, just in case, for all the beautiful people mumbling on their business without any rest, do continue reading on this article as you will be enlightened on the course of the matter. Of course I am talking about Easter (or as some people are calling it, Passover). You are about to discover all the facts about Ethiopian Easter and how it is celebrated from a religious, traditional, cultural point of view. Without forgetting to put in some informative details on how Easter is celebrated in my family. But bearing in mind the fact that I have had the chance to celebrate Easter in different European countries, I will give out some details and write about those experiences as well. Since this article is going to be a pure and deep source of Easter celebration from the exotic land of Ethiopia, feel free to add in the comment section how Easter is celebrated in your homecountry so there will be a chance for everyone to learn something new from one another.

Facts about Ethiopian Easter

As you might know from some history classes or just general knowledge, Ethiopia is considered to be one of the most religious countries in the world, where the vast majority of people belongs to one of the Christian religion branches which is the Orthodox church. For your information, Orthodox church is one of the oldest churches in the world, so with this comes very detailed and highly conservative traditional customs. On each Orthodox festivity in Ethiopia you can really feel the atmosphere changing because many people dress up in their white robes men and women including children head to the nearest church to attend the mass.

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Palm Sunday

Going back to our main theme for today, what takes place each year for the Orthodox church followers is that right about one week before Easter Sunday, there is the famous celebration of Palm Sunday. On this day the Orthodox religion followers gather to the nearest church and participate in a special mass dedicated for the Palm Sunday. This of course marks the fact that there are only seven days left before Easter Sunday. Nevertheless, on Palm Sunday we are reminded of the religious background of this festivity which is of course the entrance of Jesus Christ riding a donkey and all the people around him greeting him with palm tree branches in their hands and shouting "hosanna". So since for the children is a big thing to celebrate Palm Sunday, what we used to do as children or even adults is to make rings out of the palm tree branches.

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So by using one of these long green leaves it is possible to make customised rings. First you take one green leaf and you divide it into two parts and then there are some tricks to measure the finger size of the person you are making the ring for and then you continue to divide the leaf in many pieces. It's not hard to make but it just takes some time and practice and once you know the base you can make different kinds of rings that have the same concept. They can be taller or shorter or just simply according to your taste. This was the favourite activity to carry out during this Palm Sunday celebration. It is also common to have more than one ring at the same time. I remember that I use to make so many of them during the day that they out-numbered the ten fingers I had on my hands. Though bear in mind that they are simple green leafs so once you separate them from the branch and make a ring out of them, in the matter of few days they will dry up and turn yellow. The trick I learned is to soak them in water overnight (so you take the off when you are sleeping) and in the morning rinse them with fresh water to get rid of the leafy oduor and you are good to go. So when you are in Ethiopia during Easter period, and specially Palm Sunday, remember to make and wear your own customised green palm rings.

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Ethiopian Good Friday

Unlike the rest of the world, in Ethiopia we use the Julian Calendar, which is an older and unmodified version of the Gregorian calendar, commonly used all over the world. Given the fact that Ethiopia goes by a different calendar, all of the festivities take place on different dates compared to the rest of the world. So this year Ethiopian Good Friday was celebrated on the 26th of April. I must say that this special Good Friday is greatly celebrated among the Orthodox believers and also the Catholics believers in Ethiopia; as for the Evangelical Protestant followers, like me, there is a tendency to mainly celebrate Easter Sunday. Having said that, for the Orthodox believers the Ethiopian Good Friday has a very meaningful and powerful impact on their journey as Christians. When I came to notice as I have been living in Ethiopia for most of the part of my life, Orthodox believers go to the church to spend almost the whole day attending a special Good Friday mass, accompanied by prayers and prolonged worship time. What makes this mass special is the fact that in remembrance of the pain that Jesus Christ had endured for our sins, each Orthodox believers should go to the priest (or to the spiritual leader) and after he receives a certain amount of (usually amounted in numbers) "bow downs" (also known as "sigdet" in Amharic). So according to some criteria the priest is going to assign how many bow downs must this person carry out. All of the bow downs assigned by the priest must be done, if not you end up disobeying an order coming from a spiritual leader (which is regarded as something you should avoid doing). So the person starts to do his bow downs in batches: he stands up with his two feet then he pauses for a second and after he lays flat to the ground and then gets up on his feet again. This action is repeated as many times as necessary while taking all the breaks in between. In the picture down below you can see some people carrying out their bow downs while some are taking a rest and probably listening to the sermon or following a prayer.

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This is spiritual practice takes place for the most part in the yard of the church, so expect to see a lot of people, dressed in long white scarf-like cloths, gathered all around the church's yard. It is a truely marvelous scenary you should not miss for anything if you come to Ethiopia for a visit, and who knows, maybe you will even remember this article.

Special mass on Saturday, before Easter Sunday

According to the Orthodox religion, the preparation in celebration for Easter starts almost 2 months before Easter Sunday. The first step is to fast until Easter comes. Fasting consists of depriving oneself from dairy products, meat producers and some people also refused to eat fish while others argue saying that it's ok to eat fish during fasting. People who fast will have lunch after the daily mass which is around 14. 00, so no breakfast for the people who fast. So after this 2 long months of fasting and depriving oneself from food leisure, this period of fasting is concluded on Good Friday and on Saturday before Easter Sunday where there is the so-called special Easter mass. Orthodox priests and all of the people prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for a real journey that is physically tiring and also mentally and spiritually demanding. I have never attended this because I am not an Orthodox but most of my relatives are Orthodox and they would always tell me stories on what actually goes on during Saturday night at the mass in the church. They often told me that they would have to stand up without sitting for the whole night listening to sermons and songs. No matter the physical difficulty, they always say that it was very enjoyable and in most cases, it helped them to to feel the real meaning and atmosphere of Easter and was actually Jesus Christ has endured as he was being crucified. Just imagine all of the priests dressed in their special robes, the incense is being burnt inside the church and the rhythm of that beautiful music and this singing, it really is something out of the ordinary and a scenery that will never be forgotten.

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Chicken shopping

This crucial step in the process of getting ready to celebrate Easter is the most widly spread. Whether rich or poor, everybody during last days before Easter Sunday rushes to the market with only one thing in mind: buying a living and breathing chicken. This chicken will later be prepared to make the very famous 'Doro Wot' which is a chicken and onion stew with many hardboiled eggs floating in the stew. The process of choosing and then finally buying a chicken is not reccomended for the faint-hearted because bear in mind that this chickens are alive so as soon as they are taken out of their basket they are going to try to fly away and escape. In the midst of all of this you have to grab it well in your hands and feel its weight and body structure. In most open holiday markets there are no fixed price tags on this chickens. In most cases, once you have found the chicken you want to take home with you, you have to ask for the price and that's where the fun begins. In most open markets, if not in all of them, in Ethiopia it is a common practice to bargain the price of the item you are interested in. In this case since usually the chicken vendour wants to maximise the profit he will propose a more or less high price to which you should propose the price you have in your mind. This game of bargaining goes on until both parties (buyer and seller) are happy with the final price of the chicken(s). To give a hint of actuality to the chicken market in the city of Addis Ababa, today my mother told me over the phone that the ordinary price for a medium chicken is around 300 birr (about 10 euros). If you are a tourist in Ethiopia having your first experience with bargaining it is best to be accompanied (at least for the first few times to have an idea of the average price for the item you are looking for) by a local as he can demonstrate it better to you and you feel comfortable enough to then try by your own.

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But of course, chicken is not the only source of meat used in the celebration of Easter in Ethiopia. It is very common for one who has the need to throw a big Easter party and invite family and friends, to go to a special market and buy a sheep, a goat or even an ox.

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Eating together with friends and family

Eating together with friends and family on one single big plate is one of the most celebrated and proud customs of Ethiopian people. As Easter Sunday comes around, the whole family together with friends gather around the table to share a meal symbolising love, friendship, forgiving one another, getting rid of the old and anticipation of something new. When eating from the same plate there are some general rules one should follow, but of course for the first time as it is accepted that they might do something funny or wrong. But one thing that I really love is what it's called in Amharic "gursha". It basically translates to feeding someone with your own hands so you grab some of the injera which is the flatbread we used to accompany all of the meat and vegetable we eat and feed the person who is dear to you as a sign of friendship and mutual appreciation. Do know that there is no such thing as giving only one 'gursha' so prepare yourself to receive a second one or to give a second one because to feed your friend only once it means that he will fight with you and it might also bring some bad luck.

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Difo Dabo

This is a typical bread made for all special occasions like Easter, Christmas, New Year, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, Christenings, graduations and any other important social or religious events. I would say that the particularity of this bread is not much in the ingredients used or the kneading process or the leavening of the bread dough. What makes this bread very special is first of all it can be as heavy as 12 to 15 kilos or even 20 kilos sometimes. Secondly the facts that the bread is wrapped with banana leaves which turn into this brownish colour as the bread gets cooked right through. Just imagine the flavour of this bread baked in banana leaf I tell you that the bread is so aromatic and so deep in flavours that it will just knock your socks off. This is the same bread that you bake by yourself and you bring with you when visiting friends family and relatives. The traditional way to bake it is not in an electric oven but you should set up a fire outside on the yard and use a clay baking oven.

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Thank you very much for taking the time to read this blog post about Ethiopian Easter celebration customs. I hope you liked it. Cheers to you all!


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