It’s Christmas in Ethiopia! Orthodox Christians, who make up more than half of the Ethiopian population, celebrate Christmas, which they call “Genna”. Because Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, Genna falls on 7 January. You will not find many Christmas trees, countless presents and twinkling lights during the Ethiopian Christmas season, but this does not detract from the festivity and magic of the holiday. The Genna holidays are marked by good food and coffee, various church ceremonies (depending on the Christian denomination), time spent with family and friends, and traditional games.
One of these games is so closely linked to the Christmas season that it also bears the name “Genna”. Especially in the rural areas of Ethiopia, men and boys pick up curved, wooden sticks and play with a wooden ball on two goals. Thus, in a way peculiar to Ethiopia, Genna is reminiscent of field hockey, with numerous customs incorporated into its course. One example is the opening of the game. It happens only after the male population of a town or village has assembled on the nearby field, touched the ball with a stick and spoken the following words:
“O Lord, provide it for me from year to year. Tell me that I am a man who will live through one rainy season into the next year.”
This ritual is called “enkurkuso”. Unlike most other games and sports, the rules of Genna are not particularly complicated, which often makes the moves seem somewhat disorderly. Nevertheless, to minimise the risk of injury (which is already quite high because of the hard sticks and balls), two older men take on the role of referees by standing on both edges of the court. Although the length of a Genna season varies from region to region, they all have in common their reference to the Christmas season. According to an Ethiopian legend, Genna was first played by shepherds to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
For a more detailed description of other Ethiopian Christmas traditions, peculiar dishes or ceremonies, see an article on the PROJECT-E blog written by former Country Representative Sena Kinati. Melkam Genna to everyone!