An Ethiopian Christmas

A 40-day vegan fast, then a January Christmas feast

Eden Amberber, Reporter

As everyone sings holiday songs and opens gifts, he half-heartedly participates. He’s anticipating a later Christmas in January.

Ethiopian senior Michael Kabtimer celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, because Ethiopia follows the Coptic calendar, while America follows the Gregorian calendar. The Coptic calendar puts Ethiopia about seven years behind, causing Ethiopia to currently be in the year 2008 and alternate calculations on holidays.

“[Ethiopian Christmas] is the same idea, you know, Jesus being born and celebrating his birth,” Kabtimer said. “[But] it’s special, it makes us different from everyone else in the world.”

Kabtimer still participates in the various Christmas activities in December, such as holiday parties and giving gifts, but said he celebrates with his family more in January.

“[On American Christmas], we give each other a couple of gifts,” Kabtimer said. “But, when Ethiopian Christmas rolls around, that’s when we pull out all the gifts. We still celebrate American Christmas, it’s just not as extravagant.”

Although he celebrates American Christmas, Kabtimer prefers Ethiopian Christmas.

“[Ethiopian Christmas is] more real to me,” Kabtimer said. “American Christmas just feels fake, due to the fact that all the commercialism has blurred out the true meaning. [Ethiopian Christmas] sticks to the original meaning of Christmas.”

Kabtimer said that Ethiopian Christmas is more of a ceremonial event. In celebration, Kabtimer goes to overnight church services on Jan. 6 at his Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

“[Ethiopian Christmas is] more about the church and you being with your family,” Kabtimer said. “It’s not materialistic. I stay at church all the way till three in the morning or so, awaiting the birthday of Jesus with my family and churchgoers. It’s a celebration of music, dance and food.”

Even though Kabtimer believes American Christmas is commercialized, he takes part in it as a consumer.
“I like gifts,” Kabtimer said. “I buy my friends gifts. Both carry their own weight, but I still like Ethiopian Christmas better.”

In the time before Ethiopian Christmas, Kabtimer’s family fasts during Ghena, where they practice abstinence of dairy and meat for 40 days to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Though his family fasts, Kabtimer does not.

“If I fasted, I think I would hate it, because of all the holiday food I would have to miss out on,” Kabtimer said.
Kabtimer’s family extensively prepares in the days before Ethiopian Christmas.

“It’s about a three-day prior preparation,” Kabtimer said. “My mom used to own an Ethiopian restaurant, so she takes many cautionary measures to make sure everything’s perfect. My house stays smelling like onions and Ethiopian spices.”

Along with Christmas, Ethiopians also celebrate differently for Easter and Lent, a fasting period typically lasting 40 days, in which many Christians do not eat certain foods.

“Our Lent is 55 days,” Kabtimer said. “And Ethiopian Orthodox Easter is celebrated about two to three weeks after typical Easter.”

One Christmas memory Kabtimer cherishes is the time his mother pretended to be Santa Claus.

“Santa visits us on Jan. 6; he makes two trips for us,” Kabtimer said. “My mom would always try to pretend to be Santa Claus. But I would know because first, she could never spell my name right and second, her handwriting is super distinct.”
As a child, Kabtimer disliked celebrating Christmas at a different time.

“I couldn’t understand why we had to celebrate Christmas later,” Kabtimer said. “I would ask my mom, ‘Where’s the rest of the gifts?’ on Dec. 25 and she’d say, ‘This is not really Christmas. This is not when Jesus was born. Don’t worry, Santa will come.’”

Now, Kabtimer said he loves the unique way his culture celebrates Christmas.

“It gives me a reason to go to church,” Kabtimer said. “It’s about company, and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior.”