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Celebrating Christmas (Gena) in Addis Ababa after 20 years

Celebrating Christmas (Gena) in Addis Ababa after 20 years

Christmas Memories and Traditions: Then and now

Try to imagine your favorite memory of being home for Christmas. What made it so special? Now let that feeling settle in. The feeling of being home for Christmas usually has a cozy connotation. My favorite memory of Christmas was as a child in Addis Ababa. I can still envision our decorated Christmas tree next to our chimney, fresh cut grass spread around the house, the aroma of coffee roasting, and the family breakfast feast.

Christmas morning in Ethiopia with sisters

 Returning to present day, we had just landed in Bole Airport.The Habesha (Ethiopian or Eritrean) guy sitting next to me makes a sign of the cross with his right hand tracing the shape of a cross. In our culture this gesture is a sign of showing reverence and gratitude to God.  Being home for Christmas may have a different meaning for all of us, but we can all agree the feeling of finally being home after a long time is an exciting one. 

Selfie with children's national co-workers on my last day

The occasion for my visit: it’s January 6th in Ethiopia and it’s Christmas Eve. This trip is special because it is my first time back in time to celebrate Christmas. I finished working at Children’s National in Washington, D.C. before my flight, and after my 17- hour flight, I, too, shared the sentiment of my seat partner of gratitude to finally be home for Christmas. On that day (Christmas Eve), I walked into Boston spa and the scent of eucalyptus and grass spread on the floor triggered streams of memories of Gena (Christmas) from my childhood. Boston Spa is a wonderful place because it’s where the art of being pampered by the friendly staff and the subtle reminder that you're in Mama Africa collide together. 

Boston Spa hair salon Christmas eve

While getting my hair done, the aroma of coffee (my favorite scent) illuminated the salon. We all have scents we connect to a certain memory, and for me, coffee is a scent that I associate with fond memories. My favorite memory of Christmas is trying coffee for the first time as a child in Addis.Sitting at the hair salon, I couldn’t help but smile and soak it all in. All the memories of getting my hair done before a holiday, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, and familiar, friendly faces made me feel at ease even when I know it will be hours before my hair will be done (Oh, Mama Africa, you run on your own time). 

Elderly women in Ethiopia on Christmas Eve

Afterwards, we went to visit a group of elderly women whom we’d been supporting. My sister and I had talked about buying a cow as a gift for them for Christmas. When we arrived, they greeted us with excitement and warm hugs. These are the kinds of moments I’ve been wanting to experience in Addis: spending time sharing stories with new friends while doing good. After talking to some of the women and sharing bread with them, they went one by one blessing us. As we said our goodbyes, I was grateful for crossing paths with these women and the new tradition that my sisters and I started. This was a worthwhile cause. 

Christmas and Gena Morning:

Between the jet lag and the noise coming from the blaring speakers announcing blessings in Geez (Semitic language) at the Orthodox church across the street, It was  difficult to fall asleep. By the time I woke up, everyone was already up waiting for me, and it felt good to be greeted by my family with warm hugs. The aroma of delicious doro wett, Dufo dabo (bread), and spices filled the living room. After our delicious breakfast, we lounged around with full bellies, singing, opening up gifts, and taking way too many pictures.

Doro wett
Niece taking family picture
Ethiopian bread

Here in the motherland, Christmas falls on January 7th. This is because Ethiopians use the Gregorian calendar. In many ways, you can say Ethiopians share similarities in the way Westerners celebrate Christmas. At the center of it is the birth of Jesus, decorating Christmas trees, family, eating too much, and opening up presents, but where things differ is the coffee ceremony that takes place.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Also it’s part of tradition to visit others on special holidays, so we went to visit my brother and his family. Of course, there was another round of hugs, opening presents, taking photos, and eating doro wett. After getting a quick nap, we headed back to my sister’s house to get ready to visit another family member. 

Christmas morning with my family in Ethiopia

Every year my sister and her family go to her mother-in-law’s house where they partake in more eating and festivities. We wore our beautiful Ethiopian dresses and headed to her house. The night was filled with warm, heart-felt love as everyone surrounded grandma (Mama Maze) who always sits on her designated couch by the door. After traveling solo for a while, I felt loved, and the tradition to be around my family melted any jet leg drama that was swirling in my head. 

Finding joy in Gena, Addis, and Family

Since the first time I visited in 2010, I’ve had mixed feelings about being back in Addis. As exciting as it is to be back home, we all know it can also get stressful. So, these days I’ve learned how to balance and deal with these setbacks. Combining spa treatments, doing good, having family time, and eating delicious meals definitely helps. Being in Addis during a big holiday is a treat for any visitor. That’s the time when we get to experience how vibrant Ethiopian culture is. So, if you time it right, you get to enjoy a second Christmas, post-work vacation, childhood memories, festivities, and family in the horn of Africa.

As always thanks for taking time to read my post. Sharing memories have a way of showing us that our experiences are relatable. Would love to hear your favorite holiday memories from your childhood? Also likes and shares are always appreciated!

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