Ethiopia’s Exclusive Enkutatash

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Enkutatash (gift of jewels) marks the Ethiopian New Year based on the Coptic calendar of Julian calculation. There is eight-year gap between Ethiopian calendar and that of the world which follows the Gregorian calendar. Jumia Travel, Africa’s leading online hotel booking website introduces you to the distinctive Ethiopian New Year.

Enkutatash signifies the end of the rainy season and arrival of the sunny weather. The tradition goes back 3,000 years to commemorate the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia and Yemen who visited King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem. She had gifted Solomon with 120 talents of 4.5 tons of gold as well as unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia, her chiefs welcomed her with enku (jewels). This remained to be the symbol of the Ethiopian New Year.

The Ethiopian New Year (zemenmelewecha) falls on the 12th of September when the rainy season ends. After enkutatash, the sun comes out to shine all day long creating an atmosphere of dazzling warmth. Highlands and fields turn to gold and green with the yellow daisies (adeyeababa) and long grasses (ketema).

The big festivity starts on the eve by sending out the old year and preparing special meals. The first day of the New Year begins  with families gathering together to give thanks and to welcome the New Year. The day incorporates special clothings. Women wear bright hued vestments called yehabsesh kemis and gold and silver jewelries while the men wear a sparkling white traditional garment called yehagerlibse.

It is a day of unity, forgiveness, love and a time to plan for future. This spring festival has been celebrated since the early times with dancing, singing and loud music which can be heard from homes, restaurants and city malls. During the eve, people gather together in front of their compound gates and ignite (chibo) bonfires to symbolize the ushering in of the New Year.

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Celebration follows with ornate coffee and food serving ceremony at a large get-together of family and friends. The coffee ceremony is conducted by a woman, dressed in the traditional costume of a white dress. The long process starts with the ceremonial apparatus – sinny (ceramic cups) jebena (clay pot) being arranged upon a rekobot (traditional wooden tray) and scattered freshly cut grass on the floor. It is a big part of the day to slaughter sheep, goat, and chicken that will be eaten with several family members, guests and neighbors. Some prefer to slaughter ox and share the meat with people to indicate friendship and togetherness.

Over 80 different ethnic cultures of Ethiopia serve their own holiday delicacies of foods. The meals are marinated with several spicy powders and chili peppers infused with ginger, garlic, edible oil and butter to cook delicious stews.

Zemenmelewecha feasts include several traditional meals and breads including difo dabo, kocho, hibest, and anbasha. The day is celebrated with a variety of spicy stews of beef, lamb, fish, doro stew (chicken with boiled eggs), zemamochet (seasoned chopped collard greens), kitfo (minced raw beef), tibs (traditionally seasoned and fried meat), gord gored (cubed seasoned raw meat). These meals often served with spice and ayibe (crumble traditionally fermented cheese) as a side dish to ease the spicy food.

All servings comprise injera (large round flat bread) made out of fermented teff flour which is highly nutritious. The gluten-free grain which forms the centerpiece of Ethiopian holiday and casual meals has high concentration of calcium, protein and amino acids. Portions of stew are piled on top of the bread allowing the injera to soak up the juices creating a yummy combination.

The day also involves singing and dancing in public. Young women dressed in hebesha kemesi (traditional cotton dress) and traditional hair braid sing around the village giving freshly picked bouquets of flowers and paintings to each household portraying the unique culture. The girls will be given difo dabo or money to show appreciation of their song and gifts.

The Ethiopian New Year continues to be celebrated for 17 consecutive days with people greeting east other with enkuanaderseachew (welcome to the New Year). Celebration will be concluded with Meskel which is another bigger event of the Ethiopian tradition.

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