Celebrating the Ethiopian New Year
By Emily Wax
You’ve heard of the Chinese New Year — but how about the Ethiopian New Year?
The Washington area’s 200,000-plus Ethiopian-Americans celebrate the holiday, which marks the end of the Horn of Africa’s long rainy season. Traditionally, children get new clothing and distribute freshly picked flowers, families visit with friends and the countryside echoes with New Year songs.
Ethiopia’s calendar is derived from that of ancient Egypt, but is unique to Ethiopia. The seven- to eight-year gap between the Ethiopian and Western calendars results from differing methods of calculating the date of the Annunciation.
In Washington, a group of Ethiopian activists and businessmen want to make the day known as Enkutatash in Ethiopia a part of the American roster of holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo.
At the Washington Monument on Sunday, there will be traditional food, African and reggae music, Ethiopian dancing and the lighting of torches or chibos, which in Ethiopia symbolize an ushering in of the New Year.
“We are reaching out to all Africans in the diaspora, African-Americans and Americans of all walks of life who are looking for a new holiday and are interested in or love Ethiopian culture and want to learn more and celebrate,” said Anteneh Demelash, a community banker and a founder of the Ethiopian African 2000 Millennium Group — the coalition of Ethiopian-Americans that is trying to market the event.
Bill Petro, an amateur historian who writes about American holidays on his Web site, says the Ethiopian-Americans have a good shot, in part because of social media’s role in publicizing the concept. “The Irish-Americans didn’t have the Interent when they were originally promoting St. Patricks Day. But the Ethiopian celebration in Washington is being mentioned all over the Internet — there are dozens of sites talking about it,” said Petro, who lives in Colorado. “It also occurs at a unique time in history where there are all kinds of ways of taking an idea viral.”