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Ethiopian New Year

         As we step into another new year, let's wholeheartedly accept the divine plan. On September 11th, the Holy Church jubilantly ushers in the new year, named in honor of one of the evangelists, Saint Matthew. This celebration is a testament to the Ethiopian tradition of naming each year after the four Evangelists: Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke, and Saint John, commemorating their pivotal role in propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their writings and sermons.

         The Ethiopian New Year is not just a temporal marker; it's a period rich in remembrance. Among the events recalled is the recession of the great storm during Noah's time. However, the primary focus of this day is the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist, revered by Ethiopians as Saint John. His beheading symbolizes the end of the prophetic era and serves as a bridge between the Old and the New Testaments, heralding the message of salvation and new life in Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Saint John embodies the transition from one year to the next.

         Moreover, the Ethiopian New Year heralds the shift from the rainy season to brighter days, symbolizing the journey from a daunting night to a radiant morning. It's a time of gift exchanges and well-wishes among Ethiopians. A customary New Year greeting is, “May He take you safely from the year of John to the year of Matthew!” This greeting varies depending on the Evangelists' names representing the outgoing and incoming years. The entire month of September is a period of joy and celebration.

        On New Year's Day, each Ethiopian Orthodox Church conducts a special service. When the day's Holy Mass concludes, the High Priest announces the yearly calendar and the Bahire Hasab, the chronology system used for determining the timing of festivals and fasting periods. Following this, the High Priest declares the transition from the old to the new year, proclaiming, for instance, “The reign of Matthew has ended, and Mark has begun.” As the priest recites this declaration thrice, the congregation echoes it with great enthusiasm. This festival is a dual celebration, marking both the New Year and the Feast of Saint John, occurring at the culmination of the long rainy season when the earth is adorned with wildflowers.

        Additionally, the Ethiopian New Year is known as ‘Enkutatash,’ meaning “gift of jewels” in Amharic. This tradition dates back nearly 3,000 years to the time of the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia, who returned from visiting King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem, bearing gifts of gold, unique spices, and jewels. Upon her return, her chiefs replenished her treasury with ‘Enku’ or jewels, and the celebration has persisted since those early times. With the end of the rains, every village resonates with dancing and singing, and in the evening, every household lights a bonfire, adding to the festive spirit.

        While ‘Enkutatash’ is deeply rooted in religious significance, it's also a celebration of the New Year and the renewal of life. Nowadays, 'Enkutatash' is synonymous with the exchange of formal New Year greetings among Ethiopians. Children, adorned in new clothes, dance through villages, offering bouquets of flowers and painted Enqutatash pictures to each household, embodying the spirit of renewal and hope.

May this New Year bring peace to the world; Amen!

Source: Bantalem Tadesse, 2010; "A Guide to the Intangible Treasure of Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation Church: Historic Perspective and Symbolic Interpretation of the Festivals."

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