ADDIS ABABA, JOHANNESBURG (AA) – The domestic counters of Addis Ababa Bole International Airport are heaving with passengers going to Lalibela, a town in northern Ethiopia which is home to what many consider to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Lalibela churches are 11 ancient monolithic structures carved out of solid granite. It is here that many pilgrims of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from different parts of the country travel to celebrate Christmas.
The airport is particularly busy on the eve of Ethiopian Christmas, which falls on Jan. 7 every year.
One pilgrim, Alem Haile, told Anadolu Agency just before boarding her flight: “Lalibela has long been a site of pilgrimage for Christmas celebrants and the services there are sublimely colorful.”
“Going to Lalibela on this day gives me a sense of religious elation,” she said, adding it was also worthwhile to see a UNESCO site with the naked eye.
In the capital Addis Ababa, Christmas Eve saw the hustle and bustle of people at the city’s various markets. Downtown, young people are busy shopping for Christmas gifts.
“Live lamb is particularly expensive this time around,” says Zebider Mekonnen donning a traditional Christmas all-white cotton cloth. She says the price of lamb, which is usually bought after much bargaining, ranges from 1,000 to 4,500 birr ($47 – $212).
“It is too much for the average earner like me,” she says, adding: “Instead I am opting for roosters to prepare doro wot, [a traditional chicken stew which is oily, spicy and hot]”.
Other Ethiopian holiday treats include raw beef, mutton grill, roasted meat, sweets, homemade breads as well as tej, a traditional honey wine.
Christmas Eve begins with church service with people holding lit wax candles.
The nine saints
During prayer services — conducted in an ancient Ethiopian language called Ge’ez — the clergy give out praises and tributes to each of nine saints that migrated to Ethiopia in mid-6th century from Syria and Asia Minor, present-day Turkey.
According to Deacon Daniel Kibret, who is a religious scholar, the church praises the nine saints with deep sense of reverence for their contributions in the development of the Orthodox religion in Ethiopia.
“They are deeply revered and credited with expanding parishes across the country and with translation of the Bible into the local Ge’ez language,” he said.
Meanwhile, Liqe Tiguhan Tadele, board president of the Addis Ababa office of the Ethiopian Inter-faith Council, told Anadolu Agency that Christmas in Ethiopia is unique in the sense that all Christian denominations celebrate it with a strong sense of togetherness.
Ethiopian Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7 every year by all Christians in the country — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Seventh-Day Adventist.
“In the past there had been isolated cases of religious tensions and unfair competitions,” he said, claiming that such divisions had been rendered irrelevant.
In his Christmas benediction, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Mathias, called on the faithful to display respect and compassion to fellow human beings.
Peaceful co-existence also featured in benedictions given by the leaders of all other churches.
‘Peace and unity’
Meanwhile in South Africa, hundreds of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians gathered at midnight at the Tewahedo Holy Trinity Church in Johannesburg to celebrate Christmas.
Tens of thousands of Ethiopians live in South Africa eking out a living in the small-business sector.
Last year, half a dozen Ethiopians were among immigrants killed in a wave of xenophobic attacks.
“We ask God to grant us global peace and unity as we mark this day because without peace there cannot be progress,” said church leader Aba Gebrekdan Getaneh in his Christmas sermon.
Getaneh also prayed for needy people across the world to be freed from disease, poverty and hunger.
“We ask God to intervene in helping those affected by hunger and disease,” he said.
Dressed in white clothes, worshippers clapped and sang a special spiritual hymn known as Mahileit in the Amharic language.
Most of them had been fasting for more than a month and only broke their fast at midnight.
Church committee member Gebeyehu Bahiru said Orthodox Christians fast because prophets used to do so before the birth of Jesus Christ so as to receive a revelation about his birth.
‘‘I am so happy to join my fellow countrymen in celebrating Christmas.’’ one worshipper told Anadolu Agency inside the church.
Some believers were seen hugging and congratulating each other for successfully reaching Christmas Day.
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