January 6, 2014
Merry Christmas Dear Supporters,
Ah, you probably thought that we are inexcusably late in our greetings or that we woke up with our watches turned to the wrong date. But for those of you with at least one foot in the ancient civilization of the land we now call Ethiopia, a Christmas greeting at this time of year comes as no surprise.
Perhaps you’re interested to know how this could be, how a tradition could exist in which the birth of Jesus is celebrated practically two weeks after almost all other Christmas celebrations the world over have ended. It is a good guess that even those who have observed Christmas on January 7th every day of their lives do not know the true answer. Prepare yourself to read for a humble explanation.
The Ethiopian calendar is a bewildering brew of customs that differ from those practiced by most Americans. The reason for this is a complicated mixture of strongly held traditions and religious disagreement. The Ethiopian calendar has 12 equal months of 30 days each, and a smaller month of five or six days depending on leap year.
The religious disagreement? Well, by clinging to the calculations of a 5th century monk and rejecting the reassessment by a 6th century monk about the day of the annunciation of Christ, Ethiopians are eight years behind most of the world.
Ethiopians follow very similar to the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar not only marks the new year on September 11, but also does not make allowance for the fact that marking leap year every four years is not quite enough of an adjustment to reconcile the calendar with the solar year. Every 400 years there is a need to eliminate three leap years. The Julian calendar was replaced by most governing institutions by the slightly more accurate Gregorian calendar. But Ethiopian Orthodox church, with its deeply rooted and dearly held belief kept their tradition. Are you confused yet? Wait there’s more! December 25 on the Julian calendar actually falls on January 7 on the Gregorian calendar. So strictly speaking, Christmas is still kept on December 25, which just happens to fall 13 days later on the Julian calendar.
Never mind all that. Baffling or not, Ethiopia is a nation, a collection of cultures, a diverse and beautiful people who are rich with surprises. And if one doesn’t try to think about all of the many wonderful contradictions all at once, it is a beautiful place to visit, an interesting place to learn about, and a perfect place to invest in its young people, which you have done.
Thanks so much. And once again, Merry Christmas!
The Fregenet Foundation