A Second Christmas in Ethiopia

lalibela photo
Photo by Rod Waddington

In Ethiopia, tradition follows the old Julian calendar, meaning Christmas is celebrated on 7th January every year. Enjoy a second Christmas in a new and fascinating country.


Ethiopia is known for its vast and magnificent landscapes. Its culture is equally as outstanding and a unique way to experience it is to visit during Christmas. Christmas celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is known as Ganna or Genna and many people dress in white and visit Church on Christmas day. Leading up to Christmas many take part in the Advent fast in the 43 days leading up to Christmas. During this time, foods such as meat, dairy, eggs and wine aren’t eaten and typically only one vegan meal is eaten each day. When Christmas day comes the feasts follow. Traditional Christmas delicacies include ‘wat’, a spicy stew full of meat vegetable and eggs. Injera, a flat bread, is served on the side of Wat and often used as an edible spoon. Find a good restaurant serving Wat for a traditional Christmas feast.

 landscape ethiopia photo
Photo by richardstupart

Festivities continue after Ganna when Timkat begins on 19th January. Timkat celebrates the baptism of Jesus and Churches are full of life. Children play musical instruments in the Timkat procession. The sistrum is a percussion instrument with tinkling metal discs, its music can be heard throughout the period. Unlike western countries, during the Chritmas season, both Ganna and Timkat, there is little present giving. Instead the focus is on games, church services and feasting: so dive in!

lalibela photo
Photo by Martijn.Munneke

The greatest place to experience Christmas in Ethiopia is in Lalibela, the town in the northern highlands honoured as a Christian site of pilgrimage. Lalibela is a World Heritage site, a site of captivating history frozen in stone. The 13 Churches in Lalibela were carved vertically out of rock after King Lalibela had a vision in the 12th Century. Christmas in Lalibela is one of the most colourful festivals in the country as thousands of pilgrims from every background flock to the town and dancing, chant, sing and light candles around the rock-hewn churches.

lalibela photo
Photo by Martijn.Munneke

Many pilgrims walk, bare foot, from far away hamlets to share the blessing in Lalibela. The landscape is illuminated by their candles and alive with their singing. Explore the area by eco trekking through the highlands. On route you’ll be immersed in the landscape as well as seeing small villages, monasteries and traditional ways of life. Another way to experience Ethiopian culture is by taking a cooking lesson. You’ll try your hand at making the famous injera, and other dishes such as vegetable curries or spiced chickpeas using a wood-fired stove. Cooking lessons also mean you get to taste the traditional cuisine, even the Christmas specials.

injera photo
Photo by Rod Waddington

In Ethiopia, spoken in the Amharic language, Santa is known as ‘Yágena Abãt’ and Merry Christmas is ‘Melikam Gena!’ Get practising to impress the locals.