Enkutatash: Rastafari, Ethiopians worldwide welcome New Year 2006

Red, yellow and green balloons decorating outside of restaurant

An Ethiopian restaurant in Canada, decorated for the New Year (Enkutatash). Photo courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Dip a piece of injera into stew and toast the New Year with Ethiopians—today is Enkutatash, the end of the rainy season that has long been associated with the Queen of Sheba’s return from a visit with King Solomon. While many regions of the globe look toward autumn and the approaching cool weather, Ethiopia, alternatively, is welcoming spring! Bouquets of fresh flowers, which are blooming across the countryside, are common gifts on Enkutatash, as are cards and in-person greetings. Though not specifically a religious holiday, the largest Enkutatash celebrations in Ethiopia are held at the Ragual Church on Entoto Mountain and in the 14th-century Kostete Yohannes Church in Gaynt, where psalms, sermons and prayers can be heard outside the walls for three days. Colorful processions also dot the landscape. As Rastafari consider Ethiopia to be their spiritual homeland, they, also, mark this New Year. (Learn more at Rastaites.com.)

Note: The Ethiopian calendar is based on the ancient Coptic calendar, although due to varying calculations of the Annunciation of Christ, the Ethiopian calendar is approximately 8 years behind the Gregorian. Thus, this is New Year 2006 in Ethiopia. (Want to know more about this unusual calenar? Wikipedia explains more in a longer article about the Ethiopian Calendar.)

NEW YEAR’S EVE TORCHES AND DAYTIME FEASTING

The night before New Year, it’s custom for Ethiopians to bundle dry leaves and wood, then set them on fire in front of their homes while they sing. Early the next morning, many head to church and, afterward, enjoy a feast of traditional fare: injera (flat bread) and wat (stew) forms the base of this meal. Following the feast, children parade from house to house, singing and “selling” drawings for money, which they will spend in the evening. As the day draws to a close, families and friends visit one another and toast to the New Year, partaking in Ethiopian beer and other traditional drinks.

Did you know? Enkutatash means “gift of jewels,” recalling the gems that chiefs presented to the Queen of Sheba upon her return to Ethiopia after a visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem.

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS GATHER
IN WASHINGTON, D.C. FOR ENKUTATASH

Approximately 200,000 Ethiopian-Americans reside in the area surrounding Washington, D.C. In that region of the U.S., celebrations for Enkutatash have grown until they now fill the area around the Washington Monument. Though falling on a solemn day of American remembrance now (see our 9/11 story), many Ethiopian leaders hope to make their holiday as well-known as St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. (Read more from the Washington Post’s Style Blog.)

Rolled flatbread next to colorful Ethiopian dipping foods

Photo courtesy of Flickr

For those who want to experience Ethiopian culture on days other than September 11, check regional listings in your part of the world. Events often take place days before or after the 9/11 New Year date. Last year, an Ethiopian Expo promoted Ethiopian businesses and dancing, reggae music, traditional food and the lighting of torches enlivened areas beneath the Washington Monument. (The Washington Post reported.)

Interested in cooking up some Ethiopian cuisine? A Spicy Perspective breaks down a typical Ethiopian platter, complete with photos and recipes.

Learn proper Ethiopian dinner etiquette, and access more authentic recipes from the University of Pennsylvania’s African Studies Center.