Don’t miss the best Ethiopian holidays and festivals! People travel from all over the world to celebrate New Year’s in Times Square or Festival of Colours in India. But most travelers don’t realize that Ethiopia actually has some incredible, unforgettable events that are worth traveling to for alone.

The best Ethiopian Holidays in 2020

Great Ethiopian Run
The Great Ethiopian Run is an awesome event for travelers! Photo Credit: Run Africa

1) Ethiopian Christmas

No, we’re not talking about December 25. Ethiopians, with their own unique calendar system, celebrate Christmas a couple of weeks later than the rest of the world.

And no, there are no Christmas trees and Santa Clause involved. Actually, due to Western influence, it’s starting to be a bit more common.

But traditionally this day is celebrated with your family with no gifts exchanged. Instead, special holiday foods like Doro Wat (spicy chicken dish) are served beside Tej (homemade honey wine) and Tella (homemade beer).

Date: January 7, 2020

2) Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany)

This is one of the largest and most important Orthodox religious ceremonies of the year. In Addis Ababa, the biggest gathering occurs near, “Arat Kilo,” with almost half a million attendees. But similar celebrations occur all throughout the city and country.

The holiday celebrates Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River. Part of the ceremony includes being sprayed with holy water that priests have blessed.

It’s a holiday not celebrated in your house, but together with your community. Roads will be blocked to make room for elaborate parades, led by priests, but joined in by everyone on their way to visit the church.

And of course, since it’s a day you’ll bump into a lot of people you know, you’ll want to look your best. Impress your Ethiopian friend by saying, “Le Timkat Yalhone Kemees Yibatates.” That roughly translates to wear your best clothes on Timkat.

Date: January 20, 2020

Ethiopian Holidays- Timkat in Addis ababa
Millions gather together to be blessed with holy water. Photo Credit: Steven House

3) Ethiopian Easter

Ethiopian Easter is sometimes celebrated on the same day as Easter around the world. Other years, it falls almost a week or two afterward.

While this is also another important religious ceremony, most Ethiopians have one thing, and one thing only on their mind. Meat!

The weeks leading up to Easter (commonly referred to as Lent) are when the Orthodox Christians are fasting. This means they fast until almost 3 pm every day. Additionally, they eat only vegan food! With the exception of fish and honey which they consider as acceptable, most Ethiopians are ready to enjoy some Doro Wat and other meat dishes as soon as it’s midnight!

Sticking to tradition, this holiday is not celebrated with the Easter Bunny or Easter egg hunts, but at church and with your family.

Date: April 12, 2020

4) Ashenda

This is a northern holiday that takes place mostly only in the Amhara and Tigray regions. It marks the end of fasting for the Virgin Mary.

It’s a fun holiday to enjoy, mostly because it’s celebrated openly on the streets. Girls will wear traditional bright green or orange dresses and beat drums while singing and dancing down the streets. The men also join in and it’s a fun and colorful festival.

Locals won’t care what you’re wearing, but they will definitely be impressed if you can borrow some traditional clothes or get your hair done in a specific way to match them!

Date: Between August 16-26 depending on what town you visit

 Ashenda in Tigray
Join in on the fun by wearing traditional clothes and hair in the town of Mekele

5) Ethiopian New Year’s 

Ethiopian New Year is not even close to the rest of the world’s New Years’s. Not just because it occurs in September, but also because it is almost 7 1/2 years behind the world!

That’s right. Right now, it’s year 2012. This fall, we’ll celebrate 2013.

The Ethiopian calendar is solar-based and derived from the Egyptian calendar. Instead of following the Gregorian calendar like the rest of the world, Ethiopia is on the Julian calendar.

To be fair, Ethiopia isn’t the only country with a unique calendar. There are actually a handful of other countries around the world that also have their own. This includes Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Japan, Nepal, China, and Taiwan.

In Ethiopia, the calendar is strictly observed with the majority of the population unaware of the month and date that the rest of the world uses. Although companies like ours who serve international guests use both.

Date: September 11, 2020

6) Meskel 

Meskel is a massively huge holiday in Ethiopia. The word, “Meskel,” literally means cross in Ethiopia’s ancient language of Ge’ez (the equivalent of Latin for English speakers).

It signifies the finding of the true cross of Jesus. The legend says that Queen Eleni had a dream that she should light a fire and the smoke would show her where the cross was buried. She ordered Jerusalem to build a big fire and after adding Frankincense to it the smoke rose up and then landed exactly where the cross was found.

In remembrance, large bonfires are lit every night on Meskel. The biggest celebration happens on Meskel Square in which thousands of people in Addis Ababa come together. Join in on the action. Or watch from across the street at the new Hyatt Regency hotel.

Date: September 28, 2020. 

Meskel in Meskel Square Addis Ababa
The largest celebration in Addis where thousands gather with candles to light a giant bonfire. Photo Credit:

7) The Great Ethiopian Run 

This isn’t a holiday, but it should be. The Great Ethiopian Run is the largest race in Africa. And we’re tempted to say possibly in the world. Started by Ethiopia’s most famous Olympic athlete, Haile Gebrselassie, it has become one of the most fun days in the whole country.

Every year, locals and travelers alike, pick up their matching race day t-shirt, and walk and run this 10k. Approximately 35,000-40,000 people participate each year.

If you show up early, you can watch athletes take off and do a serious run. But most everyone else does it more for fun. You can certainly run it entirely. But you won’t be out of place if you want to walk it or stop for coffee at a cafe along the way.

The best part of the race is seeing everyone wear the matching shirt. It makes for some great photo ops.

Date: November 15, 2020

Great Ethiopian Run
Did we mention that a lot of people run this race? 😉 Photo Credit: MDG Achievement Fund

If you know anyone who lives in Ethiopia, you might have heard them complain that every day is a holiday in Ethiopia. And that’s technically true. In the Ethiopian Orthodox religion, a different saint is celebrated each day of the year. Some are bigger than others. This means traffic might be slow if you’re passing St. Michael’s church on St. Michael’s day. But for the most part, these 7 holidays are the best and biggest to attend.

Which one do you want to experience? Leave it in a comment below!

Want to learn more about how to schedule your trip during one of these Ethiopian holidays? Contact Inside Ethiopia Tours today!

*Note, the date of these holidays are for 2020. They tend to vary a day or two depending on the year so always check with us first before coming!

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