“Melkam addis amet,” Happy New Year, read the texts that bombarded my parents’ phones Monday, September 11th. That day, Meskerem 1st or Enkutatash on the Ethiopian calendar, marked the start of the year 2010. The Ethiopian calendar, which is the calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, utilizes the calculations of Annius, a 5th-century monk, who determined the birth of Jesus Christ to be eight years after the monk Dionysius’s calculation, the figure commonly used in the Western world to mark the beginning of the common era – hence, why Ethiopia is “eight years behind.”
Enkutatash, meaning “gift of the jewels,” marks the date on which the Queen Sheba historically brought gifts of jewelry to King Solomon, as detailed in the Bible in I Kings 10 and II Chronicles 9.
Traditional celebrations of Enkutatash vary greatly throughout Ethiopia and its diaspora communities across the globe. In Ethiopia, many people attend religious ceremonies in the morning followed by celebrations in homes in which young girls dress up in new clothes and distribute pictures of yellow flowers, the symbol of a new year, to their parents and older relatives in exchange for money. Young boys also have the opportunity to “make money” by giving out images of saints. Later in the evening, many children go around their neighborhoods singing “Abebayehosh,” the traditional New Year song.
In large diaspora communities, Ethiopian community leaders often host events which pay tribute to their heritage. In Chicago and Washington D.C., such events includes displays of traditional Ethiopian dance called eskista and injera tasting.
My parents and I often gather with extended family to share a meal to celebrate the holiday. When my parents were growing up in Ethiopia, however, they participated in the Enkutatash traditions, going around their local communities singing and in return, receiving money from their elders.