Enkutatash is the name for the Ethiopian New Year in Amharic, it is also called Ri'se Awde Amet which means the Head of the Holy days. Ethiopia ushers her new year on September 11, which is the first day of the Ethiopian month of Meskerem. Except for the year preceding a leap year, it occurs on September 12th.
“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.”
The word Enkutatash means the Gift of Diamonds. Legend has it that King Solomon of Jerusalem gave the Queen of Sheba jewels during her famous visit to Jerusalem as mentioned in the Bible in 1 Kings 10 and in 2 Chronicles 9. She had gifted Solomon with 120 talents of gold(4.5 tons) as well as a large amount of unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia her chiefs welcomed her with gifts of ‘Enku’ or diamond. Her return to Ethiopia coincided with the New Year celebration in September, and hence the name Enkutatash came to be.
Each year in the Ethiopian Calendar is named after one of the four Evangelists: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John. This is done to remember and honor the role of the Evangelists in preaching the Gospel of Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Kristos through their writings and sermons. The naming of the years repeats itself in a four-year cycle as the Evangelists are four.
Each year is divided into 12 months of 30 days. The extra 5 days are placed at the end of the year and known as Pagumen. In the leap year an extra day is added to these five days making the month of Pagumen 6 days. The year of Luke is the Ethiopian Leap year and is the year which precedes the Western leap year.
Names of the months are as follows:
(1) Meskerem - September
(2) Teqemt - October
(3) Hedar - November
(4) Tahsas - December
(5) Ter - January
(6) Yekatit - February
(7) Megabit - March
(8) Miyazia - April
(9) Ginbot - May
(10) Sene - June
(11) Hamle - July
(12) Nehase - August
There are certain moments commemorated on Ethiopian New Year.
1. The receding of the waters of the great flood during the time of Noah
2. The beheading of Saint John the Baptist hence Ethiopians call the new year Kidus Yohannes. John was the last of the prophets and is a bridge between the Old and the New Testaments. He transferred the Gospel from the Old Testament to the New Testament which ushered in salvation and new life in Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Kristos. This is the very reason why Saint John the baptist is regarded as a symbol of transition from one year to another in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
3. The Ethiopian New Year also marks the transition from the heavy rainy season to the sunny days. It is symbolic of the passage from dark to light. The Ethiopian New Year festival has been celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard in every town and village in the green countryside. In the evening every house lights a bonfire as part of the celebration.
The New Year is also an occasion of exchanging gifts and pray for God's blessings among people. A typical New Year greeting goes: "I am glad that He(God) brings you safely from the year of Saint John to the year of Saint Matthew!" - remember the name of the year is named after one of the four Evangelists. The entire month of Meskerem is a time of celebration and joy.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church always hold a special service on the New Year. When the holy mass comes to an end, the chief priest in each Church reads the calendar of the year. The Church uses its own mathematical system for calculating the times of festivals and the beginning and end of fasting days. This ancient and unique system is called Bahire Hasab. After the reading is finished, the chief priest proclaims the replacement of the old year by the new one. For instance, if the old year was named after St. John, the priest proclaims “Yohannes teshare Mathewos negese” which is to mean “The year of Saint John has passed, and the year of Saint Matthew has begun."
Enkutatash is not exclusively a religious holiday because it is not only celebrated by Christians but by all Ethiopians. Today, the term 'Enkutatash' is used for the exchanging of formal New Year's greetings. Ethiopian children, clad in brand-new clothes, dance through the towns and villages giving bouquets of flowers and painted Enqutatash pictures to each household.
Enqutatash! Happy Ethiopian New Year!