Liddet | Ethiopian Christmas

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Melkam Yelidet Beaal. Today Christians all over the world are celebrating Christmas. Although as an Orthodox Jew I do not celebrate Christmas, I am supremely aware of this holiday as I live in a nation where the predominant religion is Christianity.

Outside the streets are empty and quiet on this overcast winter day, because in America at least, in an atavistic gesture, all commerce grinds to a halt as corporations and government allow workers to have a respite.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the unique thing about Ethiopian traditions and calendar observances, is how closely aligned they are with Judaism. Although there is no direct correlation between a Jewish festival and the January 7, 2010 date when the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition among others (i.e. Russian, Serb, and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians) celebrate Christmas, I did find a unique minor holiday that reinforced the shared history.

On Gizret (Circumcision), which is observed on 15 January, observant Ethiopians commemorate the circumcision of Jesus eight days after his birth. Since Jesus was a Jew, it is logical that he would have been circumcised as prescribed eight days after his birth.  In Hebrew, a circumcision is called "Brit Milah" and literally means "Covenant of Circumcision". It is the sign to indicate the eternal covenant that G-d established with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17). It was then reiterated through Moses at Mount Sinai about 500 years later: "And on the 8th day he shall have his foreskin circumcised" (Leviticus 12:3).

Lalibela © Dan Gerding

In Kabbalah, not the pseudo form practiced by Madonna and other celebrities, it is believed that seven days represent the physical world of creation. Thus, when a child has lived for eight days, he has transcended the physical to the metaphysical. The covenant joining body and soul, physical and spiritual, can now take place, which means that a Brit Milah has no meaning when performed before the eighth day.

This tradition has remained in force, in the face of opposition by its critiques who claim that it is "barbaric," because observant Jews, Muslims and Christians believe that when G-d chose Abram to be the founder of the chosen nation, He commanded him to circumcise himself. Afterward, G-d changed his name to Abraham, and commanded that every Jewish father has his son circumcised on the eight day after his baby is born.

As in Judaism and Islam, Ethiopian Christians not only observe the practice of circumcision, but also commemorate the act with a festival.  Although Gizret is a minor festival, Liddet and other festivals are proceeded by fasting in the days leading up to the holiday. In advent (Sibket, in Amharic) a fast is kept, and then for Christmas (also called Liddet, Gena and Qiddus Bale Wold) a fast of 40 days ending on Christmas eve with the Feast of Gena is observed.

In Judaism, fast are observed from dawn which begins at sundown and concludes at sunset the following day. During this time we may not eat, drink, bathe, annoint ourselves or engage in marital relations. On Yom Kippur wearing leather shoes is also prohibited. Muslims and Ethiopian Christians fast up to 40 days.

This is difficult concept for the average person, however, in the Ethiopian Christian tradition, "fasting is not only prayer and abstinence from eating meat and meat products neither is it only to abstain until Noon or 3 PM. When they fast they refrain from all wrongdoings, and evil things such as vanity, violence, jealousy, hatred, and all works of Satan.

Charity is recommended, alms given to the poor and the needy, and gifts brought to the church, without these charities fasting could not be complete. It is strictly observed by all baptized members of the church, although some young people today do not take fasting seriously. It is essential spiritually to help them navigate the difficulties of modern life." Source: Ethiopian Orthodox Church

For Muslims, "fasting is one of the Five Pillars of the religion of Islam and one of the highest forms of Islamic worship. Abstinence from food and drink, sexual intercourse and masturbation is required. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan (or Ramazan) from the moment when it first starts to get light until sunset and it is observed for a period of 30 days.

Each evening they break the fast, usually with dates, and then eat dinner. At the end of the month of Ramadan a day of celebration is observed that is called Eid-ul-Fitr. On this day, Muslims gather in one place to offer a prayer of thanks. It is traditional to wear new clothes, visit friends and relatives, exchange gifts, eat delicious dishes prepared for this occasion, and wait patiently for the next year." Source: The Religion of Islam

Traditional Ethiopian Cuisine

No matter your religious persuasion or level of observance, all three faiths celebrate G-d, community and family.  It is a time of sharing good food, good friends and good times.  From me and my family to all of yours, may 2010 find you in better health, prosperity and happiness.

To learn more about Ethiopia and its Orthodox Church check out The New York Times article titled "Ethiopia Opens Its Doors, Slowly."

For my readers interested in converting Gregorian calendar dates into their Hebrew equivalent check out Hebcal.com.

For my readers interested in converting Gregorian calendar dates into Ethiopian calendar dates, check out Mtesfaye.net. Click here for a list of Ethiopian Public Holidays.

For my readers interested in converting Gregorian calendar dates into their Hijri calendar equivalent, also check out Hijri Calendar Converter.