Several people have e-mailed asking about Ethiopian Christmas, called Genna. Well, relative
to North America, Christmas is a bit on a non-event here. (Although I suspect that would be
true for the entire world!). We were invited to our neighbour Salemís house for doro wat
and coffee ceremony, which was very delicious and interesting. We both had the day off
work, which was nice (after three months, work here is beginning to feel surprisingly like work),
and there was green stuff all over floors. The greenery - palm leaves, grass, small tree
branches - is spread on the ground, in peopleís houses, restaurants, even buses, for various
occasions. Basically, that was our experience of Ethiopian Christmas.
Timket, however, was a different story. Timket falls twelve days after Christmas and is much
more important in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith. Each Orthodox church in Ethiopia has a "talbot", or
replica of the Ark of the Covenant (the box that held the ten commandments, passed to Mosses from
God). It is this article which makes the church building a holy site. The original Ark is said to
be in Axum in northern Ethiopia, carefully guarded by monks. According to one book I read, the
ark is guarded not for its own safety, but for the safety of the people,
as the ark is so powerful.
The night before Timket, each church brings out its "talbot" and a big parade goes
through town as people from the various churches meet on the main street. Before the big day,
I asked a friend what the talbot looked like. She looked at me like I was crazy - "No one is
allowed to see it!" Ferenj ask such strange questions. Of course the most revered material
precept of this faith would not be allowed to be seen! When the talbots are paraded through
the street, they are carried on the heads of priests and covered with elaborately embroidered,
very colorful velvet covers with gold braiding on the edges. Similarly designed umbrellas are
then held over the covers. Whatever is underneath is surprisingly thin and small.
Everyone joins the parade, walking behind the priests clapping and singing. Most women
wear traditional clothing, hand woven white cotton dresses with embroidered bands on the edges,
and a white scarf called "natella" over their head and shoulders. We joined the parade and
were quite welcomed. The procession went to the "stadium", a big field surrounded by a low
stone fence. The talbots stayed there for the night, and many devout people spent the night
there as well. Timket celebrates the day when Christ was baptized by John the Baptist,
and many believers get re-baptized on this night.
The next morning the parade formed again to take the talbots back to their respective
churches. There was more singing and clapping and general happiness. It was extraordinary to
see a celebration that has remained largely unchanged for almost two thousand years. It was
also extraordinary to see men eating big chunks of raw beef for breakfast. The day before
Timket is a fasting day, and Ethiopians take their meat very seriously. Also likely a
two thousand year old tradition!
After Timket, we had two beautiful days of rain. It rained very hard for hours and roads
turned to rivers. I asked a friend why it was raining now. Were these the "small rains" I had read
about? He answered, "No, it is because of Timket." When I was still confused, he
elaborated: "We pray for rain at Timket, so it always rains after that." Xabeer yalkol. God knows.