Melkam Gena! (Merry Christmas in Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language)

Jan 7, 2020

By Sophia Kassa, Program Specialist for Addis Jemari

In Ethiopia, Christmas is called ‘Gena’ and it means ‘a day of glory’. The naming of the day as Gena has a direct connection with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gena is a glorious day of joy for all Christians in Ethiopia and all over the world.

In the Gregorian calendar, which is followed in the United States, Gena falls on January 7, but according to the Ethiopian calendar, it falls on the 29th day of the month of “Tahesass.” This month is called Tahesass to remember the act of the three kings who made the long search of finding the birthplace of the Lord and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Tahesass means “searching.”

Gena in Ethiopia is celebrated both religiously and culturally. Today, we want to share with you one cultural aspect of the holiday.

On Gena, Ethiopians (mostly those living in the rural) come together to play a game called “yegena chewata,” which literary means “a game of Christmas.” This cultural game has existed for centuries and it holds an important religious meaning in it.

The Gena game has a lot of resemblance with the rugby game we see on the television and it is a game only men participate with no age discrimination. These days, the game has become a game for men of all walks of lives. But in the old days, it used to be the kings, the princes, and all the high-ranking members of a community that used to come down to the fields to play with ordinary community members. There is always so much fun during the game and the high ranking members won’t consider it disrespectful as they get kicked by the ordinary members. It is the same today, and the young pushing the old will not be considered disrespectful. On the game field, everyone stands equal and just focus on having fun. There is actually a saying in Amharic which literary means “the kings and the lords will not get furious on the game of Christmas.”  The act of the high ranking members coming together with those of the ordinary people has however a deeper religious meaning connected to the day our Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.

On the day Jesus was born, angels from heaven came down to Bethlehem to rejoice the birth of Jesus Christ together with the shepherds, who were considered the lowest-ranked members of the community.  The game of Gena is symbolic to help us remember that the birth of Jesus Christ brought joy to the world with no discrimination!