The Holiday SZN
By Meron Begashaw
The holiday season has officially come and gone. In Ethiopia, it seems a little longer for those who observe the festive Timket, or Epiphany. This holiday is held in mid-January, elongating an already packed month touting New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Gena, or Ethiopian Christmas. Being here for the Fellowship keeps me far away from the familiarity, and the sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday season – the garland and tinsel, packed shopping malls, eagerness to welcome the upcoming new year, delicious leftovers, and more.
The distance is further compounded by the general population’s overall indifference to some of the western world’s most beloved holidays, for example Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This is of course with good reason – either the holiday has no historical or cultural significance, or Ethiopia simply celebrates the holiday according to its own calendar, as it does for Christmas (held January 7) and New Year (held September 11).
This figurative and literal distance had my soul yearning for ways to foster the ‘western’ holiday spirit I missed in Ethiopia.
So while the holiday season is over for many, consider this to be a loose guide on how a member of the diaspora who wants to feel a little closer to the (mostly) commercial-festiveness of the western November, December, and January can do so in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
1. Gather up loved ones for a Friendsgiving.
Thanksgiving’s hallmark feature for many is having food with family. Why miss out from the annual tradition? Throw a Friendsgiving lunch or dinner with your new friends here in Addis! Ours included a potluck-style meal, games, and speakers blasting feel-good music. In remaining intentional to the holiday’s spirit of giving thanks, we also used it as an opportunity to thank friends for helping contribute to a familial and welcoming atmosphere far from home.
2. ‘Tis the season for a Bazaar!
From the Holiday Bazaar at the Addis Ababa Exhibition Center to the German Embassy School Christmas Bazaar, and so many in between, Addis Ababa is filled with bazaars between the months of December and January. The bazaars are perfect for indulging in holiday-related trinkets and treats and basking in the holiday atmosphere with other shoppers (both locals and those here for #DiasporaDecember). Facebook event pages serve as a primary resource on the who, what, when, and where of the yearly happenings. Enjoy!
3. Hotel-hop to take in some decorations.
Okay so hotels aren’t the only places that are decorated to the nines during the holiday season but I find they cater to their patrons by offering cozy yet lavish displays of all-things-Christmas. Think Christmas trees, gingerbread houses made with actual gingerbread, wreaths, Christmas music played live or through overhead speakers—the works! Take in the sights along with your macchiato.
4. Find a religious service to attend.
If your association to the holiday season is a religious one, you will be happy to know that you can sing along to the English Christmas carols you have learned to love at houses of worship across Addis Ababa. I longed to join a chorus of “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night” and was pleased to do so at an international church here in Addis. Join in on the fellowship, sermons, and candle-lighting at one of the many options for Christmas Eve and Christmas services across the city.
5. #DiasporaDecember-it until the New Year.
The concept of “Diaspora December” is essentially that there is an influx of members of the diaspora that return to Ethiopia during the month of December to work and play (I am indebted to the coiner of the term for its catchiness). Due to this somewhat continent-wide phenomenon, you are indeed more than likely to run into someone you know and love. And what’s more fun than celebrating with folks you know from abroad on a holiday whose premise is almost entirely based on celebration? So here’s a toast to you, New Year’s Eve, and a toast to the growing list of venues in Addis that recognize all the revelers passing through or living in the city that want to party like it’s 1999.
Once you are in the new year, you will be met with two aforementioned major Ethiopian holidays: Gena and Timket. Indeed for those of you who celebrate, let it be family-and/or-friend-filled, joyous, and meaningful!
I hope these suggestions will enhance your holiday experiences in Ethiopia for years to come.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship the organization and the leadership.