Festivals and Events

Festivals and Events

Most festivals in Ethiopia are religious – either Orthodox Christian or Islamic. Feasting or fasting, traditional dance, music, processions, and flowers are common in the celebrations.

Ledet is the Orthodox Christian Christmas, celebrated on January 7th. People may attend all-night church services on the night of the 6th and there may be all-night processions before the 43-day Advent fast is broken. Genna (hockey) and gugs (similar to polo) are played in some regions, along with horse racing.

Timket, on the 19th, marks Epiphany, and it is one of Ethiopia’s most important events. Replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, known as tabots, are blessed before being paraded back to the church, accompanied by song and dance, feasting, incense, and the sound of bells.
Fasika is the Orthodox Christian Easter. Following a service ending at around 3am on Easter Sunday, families mark the end of the 55-day vegan fast with a meal of chicken or lamb.
Eid-Al-Fitr falls some time during the last two weeks of August. This Islamic holiday lasts for three days and marks the end of Ramadan with feasts and prayers.
Enkutatash is the Ethiopian New Year. On the 10th of September (New Year’s Eve) there is feasting and celebrating, then on New Year’s Day, houses are decorated with Meskel daisies and a traditional song is sung to the rhythm of drums.

Meskel is on the 27th of September. It celebrates the Finding of the True Cross in the 4th Century and also coincides with the end of the rainy season. Traditional Meskel daisies are tied to a cross, which is then blessed and placed upon a bonfire. There is traditional dancing and singing.

Irecha – Sunday after Meskel. Oromo people travel to the shore of Lake Hora, near Debre Zeyit, to thank their god and to request good fortune, health, and fertility for the coming sowing season. Perfumes and butter are smeared on trunks of ancient fig trees.
Eid-al-Adha is the most important Islamic holiday and commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. An animal is slaughtered, and the meat is shared equally between family, neighbors, and the poor. It falls in late October or early November, when Muslim pilgrims have returned from the Hajj.


There are around 75 languages and many more dialects spoken in Ethiopia. Amharic, a Semitic language, is one of the most widely spoken and has its own script. English is spoken by most educated Ethiopians and is less common outside Addis Ababa. There are a few key Amharic phrases which will help you on your trip and will be much appreciated by the locals.

Selam no: Used as a greeting, “Hello”
Ishi: Literally translated as “OK”, ishi is also informally used to mean “yes” and “thank you”
Amaseginalo: Thank you (more formal than ishi)
Buna (be wetet): Coffee (with milk). "Makiato" is also commonly available but has more milk than an Italian macchiato.
Shai: Tea – usually served with spices
Yale sukar/spice: Without sugar/spice
Wuha: Water
Muk/Koach/Kazkazay: Hot/room temperature/cold (e.g. muk wuha = hot water)
Yikirta: Excuse me
Ferenj: You’re likely to hear this a lot from local kids – it refers to white foreigners!

Historical Facts

Historical Facts Home to the first Homo sapiens, the first Muslim settlers in Africa, and the much-loved coffee bean, Ethiopia has over three million years of human history waiting to be discovered within its villages, monasteries, landscapes, and museums. It is the only country in Africa never to have been fully colonized, one of the earliest adopters of Christianity, and was the center of one of the greatest empires, rivaling Rome, Persia, and China. It would be impossible to summarize such a saga, but here are a few facts to get you started:

  1. Some of the world’s most ancient hominid skeletons were found in Ethiopia – the most famous of them being Lucy, who lived here 3.2 million years ago. She is now preserved in Addis Ababa’s National Museum.
  2. The first Homo sapiens are also considered to have emerged from Ethiopia around 160,000 years ago.
  3. Ethiopia was named by the Greeks and translates literally as “Land of the burnt faces”.
  4. From around the first century to the eighth century AD, the Aksumite kingdom was one of the most powerful in the world. It stretched from Northern Ethiopia into the Arabian Peninsula and controlled the Red Sea – a vital shipping route for silk and spice traders.
  5. Legend has it that the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Ethiopia almost 3,000 years ago by Menelik I, who was the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba of Ethiopia. The Ark of the Covenant is now said to rest in St. Mary of Zion Church in Aksum, Northern Ethiopia.
  6. Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia around the 4th century AD. Today, almost half of the population is Orthodox Christian.
  7. Africa’s first Muslim migrants settled in Ethiopia after Mohammed sent them there to avoid persecution in Mecca. The walled city of Harar, in eastern Ethiopia, is now considered to be Islam’s fourth most important city. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it contains an astonishing 82 mosques.
  8. Since Menelik I, Ethiopia has had 255 Emperors, the last of which was Ras (prince) Tafari, crowned Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930. He is credited with abolishing slavery and modernizing Ethiopia.
  9. Haile Selassie also gained great popularity abroad - especially in Jamaica. He is considered a messiah by the Rastafarian community, who named themselves after him. He donated land in Shashemene to Rastafarians and other Afro-Caribbeans who wished to return to Africa, and there is still a Jamaican community there to this day.

Food and Drink

Food and Drink

Ethiopian cuisine revolves around enjera – a large, spongy pancake made of endemic cereal flour called teff which is fermented to give it a distinctive, slightly sour taste. The enjera serves as both a plate and cutlery: chili-laden stews (wot) and meat are served on it, and pieces of enjera are torn off and used to pick these up. Dexterous Ethiopians eat using only their right hands.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast every Wednesday and Friday and for 55 days before Easter. During this time, they consume only vegan foods, and some will also eat fish. Outside of large towns it is hard to find meat during this long fast, and some restaurants will offer fasting and non-fasting versions of dishes (i.e. with or without butter).

For 55 days following the lent fast, meat is eaten in abundance. There is no fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, and vegetarians will have limited options in small towns.

The widely available juices are delicious, cheap, and nutritious – try the mixed juice, in which seasonal fruit juices such as mango, avocado, and papaya are served in colorful layers. Ask for your drink "yale sukar" if you don’t want sugar.

While Addis Ababa has many good international restaurants, Ethiopian food is frequently the only option in other areas. Menus will be in the local language with phonetic English translations – so here are a few common words. Spellings will vary!

Tibs –  small cooked pieces of meat (may be beef, goat, or lamb)
Shiro – a very common sauce made of chickpea, bean, or pea flour and flavored with berbere, a bright red mix of numerous spices.
Beyanetu – a good option for those new to Ethiopian cuisine and available in both vegan (yetsom) and meat (mahberawi). The yestom beyaynetu includes a selection of stews including beans, split peas, and vegetables and is served with enjera. The mahberawi beyaynetu includes a wide selection of cooked and raw meats and local cottage cheese (aiyb).
Meat options include chicken (doro), lamb (beg), beef (bere), and goat (fiyel).
Kitfo - warmed (not cooked) minced beef mixed with either butter and herbs or Ethiopian cheese and shredded cabbage. Try only if you have a strong stomach!
Tej – honey wine

Cultures of Ethiopia

Cultures of Ethiopia
Ethiopia has a fast-growing population of more than 85 million, speaking over 75 different languages (and many more dialects), with numerous unique ethnic groups, beliefs, and traditions. The Oromo and Amhara people are by far the most populous; each makes up almost a third of the population.

Outside of the cities, most Ethiopians work in agriculture – usually as small-scale farmers. Daily life revolves around the seasons, and many of Ethiopia’s festivals and dances refer to the harvest and tending of the fields. Cattle and goats are common – visitors on long car journeys will quickly get used to waiting patiently for the herds and their owners to pass!

Rural villages are arranged into attractive family compounds – with huts for sleeping, livestock, and storage contained within fences or walls. Some compounds also contain a garden, with fruit trees, crops, and ornamental plants providing shade, sustenance, and decoration.

One of the most widely practiced Ethiopian customs is the coffee ceremony. Beans are freshly roasted and ground, and the dark, potent drink is brewed on a small charcoal stove, while burning frankincense fills the air. The coffee is served in a small ceramic cup and a small sprig of the herb rue, known locally as Adam’s Health (Tena Adam), may be added for extra flavor.

About Home Land Ethiopia Tours

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