How to Celebrate an Ethiopian Style Christmas

Christmas in Ethiopia is known as ‘Ganna’ and like in many other countries that follow the Coptic Orthodox Church; it is celebrated on January 7th.

The celebrations for the service are held in archaic, old churches that have been carved from solid volcanic rock. Some services are also held in modern churches which are designed in three concentric circles. Gift giving is a not a very important part of Christmas celebrations.

Christmas begins at four in the morning, when church bells ring for early service. Later children dressed in their best clothes go to the royal palace to receive gifts (mostly of clothes) from the King.

Here’s how to celebrate Christmas the Egyptian way.

A few suggestions

  1. Be prepared to fast for a period of 40 to 43 days. Fasting requires refraining from eating meat, poultry or dairy products. This is called the ‘Lent fasting’ which has now been reduced to merely a week.
  2. Begin fasting from November 25th and continue right up to January 6th (Advent)
  3. Start celebrating in the last week leading up to Christmas itself. Begin by cooking to stock up for the feast and clean and spruce up the house and decorate it with colored lights.
  4. End the fast with the slaughtering of a goat and the feast that follows on the day of Epiphany.
  5. Construct a Nativity scene complete with the manger and the Three Magi because it is believed that the King who carried the gift of frankincense was King Balthazar of Ethiopia. So burn frankincense incense or mix frankincense with spices and seeds to make various fragrances.
  6. Attend the midnight mass at the local orthodox church and take care because men and women sit separately.
  7. Serve traditional food which consists of injera, a sourdough pancake like bread and Doro wat, a spicy chicken stew. Injera is both plate as well as food. Tear it and use it scoop up chicken pieces.


  • Let the children enjoy themselves playing ganna or leddat, a form of field hockey.


  • Do not make too much out of giving gifts to children as this is not encouraged there.

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