January 7 – Ganna in Ethiopia

Posted on January 7, 2014

First, let me start by saying that I am not all that surprised to learn that today is Christmas (called Ganna) in Ethiopia. After all, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 by some Eastern Orthodox Christian churches and in Russia. (This date on the Julian calendar translates to December 25 on the Gregorian calendar.)

No, that is not the big shockeroo. What amazes me is that Ethiopia has a totally unique calendar and time system—different than any other nation on earth! It is, according to my research, 7 years, 8 months, and 13 days “behind” other nations!!! It clings to the Julian calendar, but it has 13 months instead of 12 (12 months have 30 days, and the 13th month has 5 to 7 days, depending on the year).

The time system is based on the fact that, since Ethiopia lies near the equator, it gets about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night every day. (People who live farther from the equator have much shorter days in the winter than in the summer.) So the day starts at what most of us would call 6 a.m. every day – sunrise – and the time that we would say is 7:00 a.m. is called 1:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m. is 2:00 a.m., and so on. Finally, at sunset (what we would call 6:00 p.m.), it's like our midnight, and the clock starts over with the Ethiopian p.m. times.

It actually makes a lot of sense to me to start each day at sunrise instead of at midnight. What doesn't make so much sense is that it is different than time anywhere else in the world! Many Ethiopians have to keep in mind international time as well as Ethiopian time, because airlines and modern companies—even Ethiopian-owned-and-run airlines and modern companies—use international time!
These two clocks both tell time for Addis Ababa,
the capital of Ethiopia. But the top one is its international
time, and the bottom one is its local, or Ethiopian, time!

So, to figure out dates in Ethiopia, you have to subtract 7 years, 8 months, and 13 days, and to figure out times in Ethiopia, you have to subtract 6 hours from the time zone Ethiopia lies in (which is 3 hours earlier than Britain).

Now...about Ganna!

Christmas in Ethiopia usually means a long church service in the morning and dancing, feasting, and playing sports in the afternoon and evening. Gifts are a very minor part of the day, if gifts are given at all.

At the church service, everyone gets a candle as he or she enters the church; after the candle-lighting, everyone walks around the church three times. It probably looks especially cool in one of those 12th-Century churches carved out of stone.

The sport played during Ganna is a form a field hockey calledget thisganna. The sport is so linked with the holiday, its name is also used for the holiday! 

An Ethiopian Christmas feast traditionally involves cooking chickens, sheep, or goats. The meat stew is served with flat bread and no forks or spoons! People use the flatbread, called injera bread, to scoop up mouthfuls of stew.

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