A few days back, yours truly was invited to the celebration of the Ethiopian New year. Yes… this year Enkutatash, or the Ethiopian New year, was celebrated on September 11th, and my friend went on to tell me more about it. Did you know that we are currently in the year 2014 in the Ethiopian calendar?
The Ethiopian calendar is a solar calendar based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. The first month of the year is September, called Meskerem in Amharic, the local language. One of the reasons given is that during the month of September, the number of daylight hours and nighttime hours happens to be exactly equal in every part of the globe. Moreover, during this time of the year, the sun and the moon that are used to count time each have 12 hours before setting. Another reason often given is that it could be derived from the Bible, where the creation of the Heavens and Earth are said to have taken place in September. Lastly, as in many world calendars, harvests must have been key in the setting up of the calendar.
Enkutatash is the name for the Ethiopian New Year and means “gift of jewels” in Amharic. The story goes back almost 3,000 years to the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia who was returning from her visit to King Solomon of Israel, as mentioned in the Bible in I Kings 10 and II Chronicles 9. She had gifted King Solomon with 120 talents of gold (4.5 tons) as well as a large number of unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia, her chiefs welcomed her with enku or jewels to replenish her treasury. The name Enku may also refer to the countryside, which is covered by bright yellow flowers known as Adey Abeba as this time of the year also marks the end of the rainy season. The appearance of the bright yellow flowers also indicates the impending harvest which is to be celebrated (see… harvest).
The celebration is both religious and secular. The day begins with big church services, followed by a family meal. Young children will receive small gifts of money or bread after the girls gather flowers and sing, and boys paint pictures of saints. Families eat the famed national flatbread injera with the national dish doro wot (chicken stew), which takes at least half a day to prepare, and is rarely missed during these celebrations; families visit friends, and adults drink Tej, the national Ethiopian wine made out of honey… reminds me so much of King Lalibela (bees)… is this where the tradition comes from?
This year, in particular, the hope is for peace and harmony… to a happy new year. Enkuan Aderesachihu!