Celebrating Ganna: An Ethiopian Tradition

With over 80 ethnic groups, Ethiopia is home to many ethnicities, languages, and cultures. As many countries throughout the world have celebrated a festive holiday season, Ethiopia has its own unique and vibrant tradition. At the heart of the Christmas season in Ethiopia is “Ganna.” 

Most of the Ethiopian population practices Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. Christmas, known as "Ganna" (or "Genna,") is a significant date in the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian calendar. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which has Ganna falling each January 7th.  

Like Christmas in the States, Ganna is more than just a single day of celebration. It’s a season of spiritual reflection and preparation that leads up to the holiday. It begins with a 43-day fasting period called "Tsome Nebiyat," or “Fast of the Prophets.” During Tsome Nebiyat, many Ethiopians consume a vegan diet free from animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs, and abstain from alcohol (source).

On the eve and early morning of Ganna, people participate in a night-long vigil at their church. The celebration ends with an early morning mass filled with hymns, prayers, traditional Ethiopian dances, and a popular game similar to hockey known as “Yágenna Chewata (source).” 

After the service, families share a meal to break their fast, traditionally doro wat, a thick spicy stew with chicken and whole-boiled eggs. It is eaten with injera, a thin sourdough flatbread used to scoop up the wat. A coffee “buna” ceremony takes place after the meal, where guests pass around a pan of roasted coffee beans to savor the aroma. Tej (Ethiopian wine), “Tela” (home-made beer), and other beverages are also served (source).

On Ganna, Ethiopians spend time with friends and family. They dress in white and wear a traditional thin white cotton cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends called a Netela. It's worn like a shawl or toga. While people sometimes exchange small gifts and Santa ( Yágena Abãt or “Father Christmas”) makes an appearance, these are not central parts of the celebration (source)

Ethiopia isn’t the only place where Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Others include Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, and Ukraine (source).

To all celebrating — Melkam Gena! 

መልካም ገና!