Time and dates in Ithiopia

Enkutatash or Ithiopian (Ethiopian) New Year is celebrated on September 11th according to the Western or Gregorian calendar. Ithiopia still follows the Orthodox Julian calendar which consists of 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month, Pagume, of five or six days, depending on whether or not it is a leap year. The Ithiopian calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar, so September 2001 is Meskerem 1994 in  Ithiopia.

The way Ithiopians measure time is also different from the West. The clock starts at 6am western time and runs until 6pm. Therefore 8o’clock in western time would be 2o’clock Ithiopian time. Because Ithiopia is close to the Equator the sun rises at around 00.30 Ithiopian time and sets at around 12.45 in the evening (6.45 western equivalent) all year round. Ithiopia is 3 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

The years run in a four year cycle bearing the names of the Gospels with the year of John or Yohannes being the leap year.
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Meskerem : 11th September
Tikimt : 11th October
Hidar : 10th November
Tahsas : 10th December
Tir : 9th January
Yakatit : 8th February
Maggabit : 10th March

Miyazya : 9th April
Ginbot : 9th May
Sene : 8th June
Hamle : 8th July
Nehasa : 7th August
Pagume : 7th September

Enkutatash is an important festival in the lives of Ithiopians. After three months of heavy rains the sun comes out creating a beautiful clear fresh atmosphere. The highland fields turn to gold as the Meskal daisies burst into flower. When Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, returned to Ithiopia after her famous visit to King Solomon, her chiefs welcomed her forward by giving her “enku” or jewels. Enkutatash which means “gift of jewels”‘ has been celebrated ever since in spring. Meskerem is seen as a month of transition from the old year to the new. It is a time to express hopes and dreams for the future.

Orthodox Enkutatash Celebrations

The largest religious celebration is in the 14th-century Kostete Yohannes church in the city of Gaynt in the Gondar Region. For 3 days the sounds of psalms, sermons, prayers and hymns can be heard as colourful processions welcome the New Year. There is a large celebration nearer to Addis Abeba, the capital, at the Ragual Church on Entoto mountain.
Enkutatash customs

On New Year’s Eve, torches of dry leaves and wood bundled in the form of tall and thick sticks are also set on fire in front of houses as the young and old sing. Early in the morning everybody goes to Church wearing traditional Ethiopian clothing. After Church there is a family meal of Injera (flat bread) and Wat (stew). The girls go from house to house singing New Year songs for money and the boys sell pictures that they have drawn. In the evening families go to visit their friends and drink tella the traditional Ethiopian beer. While the elders discuss their hopes for the New Year the children go and spend the money they have earned.
In more recent times it has also become usual for well-to-do city dwellers to send each other New Year greetings cards instead of the more traditional bunches of flowers.

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