Ethiopian New Year
Kismet, we have reached yet another new year! We shall embrace the will of God. On September 1st, Holy Church rejoices the beginning of the year named after one of the evangelist Saint Matthew; Reminding the naming of each year in the Ethiopian calendar by the four Evangelists: Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke and Saint John; also in remembrance and honor the role of the Evangelists in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their writings and sermons.
Certain moments are commemorated on New Year amongst which is the receding of the great storm during the time of Noah; but the main occasion that this day highlights is the beheading of Saint John the Baptist whom Ethiopians call Saint John. The name of the Saint is thus used to refer to this special day. John was the last of the prophets and a viaduct between the Old and the New Testaments. He conveyed the Gospel from the Old Testament to the New Testament which ushered in salvation and new life in Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Saint is regarded as a symbol of transition from one year to another in the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation Church.
The Ethiopian New Year also marks the transition from the heavy rain season to the luminous one. It is symbolic of the passage from an awe inspiring night into a beautiful morning. New Year is also an occasion of exchanging gifts and good wishes among Ethiopians. A typical New Year greeting reads: “May He takes you safely from the year of John to the year of Matthew!” (Depending on the Evangelists after whom the outgoing and incoming years are named). The entire month of September is a time of blissful happiness. (Bantalem Tadesse 2010:41-44)
On New Year, special service is held in every Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation Church. When the day`s Holy mass comes to an end, the High Priest in each Church reads the calendar of the year and the calculations utilized. The system used for calculating the times of festivals, the beginning and end of the fasting days during the year called Chronology (Bahire Hasab)
After the reading, the High Priest proclaims the replacement of the old year by the new one declaring the previous year had passed and the new had taken its place. “The reign of Matthew has come to an end, and Mark has arraigned.” As the Priest repeats the declaration three times, laities attending the service repeat after him enthusiastically. This festival celebrates both the New Year and the Feast of Saint John at the end of the long rainy season, while the earth is covered with wild flowers. (Bantalem Tadesse 2010:41-44).
The day of the Ethiopian New Year is also called ‘Enkutatash’ meaning “gift of jewels” in the Amharic language. The story commencing almost 3,000 years to the reign Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia who was returning from a trip to visit King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem, as mentioned in the Bible in I Kings 10 and II Chronicles 9. She had gifted Solomon with 120 talents of gold (4.5 tons) as well as a large amount of unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia, her chiefs welcomed her with ‘Enku’ or jewels to replenish her treasury.
The feast has been celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside. In the evening every house lights a bonfire and there is much singing.
‘Enkutatash’ is not exclusively a religious holiday but is also a celebration of New Year and renewed life. Today, the term ‘Enkutatash’ used for exchanging of formal New Year greetings and wishes among Ethiopians. Ethiopian children, clad in brand-new clothes, dance through the villages giving bouquets of flowers and painted Enqutatash pictures to each household.
May God bring Peace on earth; Amen!
Source: Bantalem Tadesse, 2010; A Guide to the Intangible Treasure of Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation Church: Historic Perspective and Symbolic interpretation of the Festivals.