Celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December and the 7th of January

About Eritrea - Art & Sport

It is December. There is something about this month that excites people. I am not sure whether it is the fact that it is the end of the year, and thus inspires feelings of hope for the upcoming year and offers an opportunity to look back at the year gone by, or simply the joyfulness of the Christmas season. Whatever the answer is, this season is extra special to everyone and it is the season of reunion.

I remember how when I was young my father would take me to church on Christmas Eve. We would be joined by his friends and their children. For us, this was that special time of the year when we strengthened our family bonds, as our parents taught us to sing Christmas carols, such as “Silent night” or “Noel.” After returning from church, we would have a large dinner and enjoy the rest of the night together.

 

During the month of December, almost everyone is busy shopping for Christmas and New Year’s. It is also a season where weddings are planned. The weather is something else that makes this season beautiful. The chill you feel down your bones can carry a special excitement with it. Even though you hear everyone complaining about the cold weather, you often see them walking around merrily embracing it all. The fog swirling around town adds a special element to December evenings. However, I am quite sure that many young women would disagree; the fog, you see, can ruin our hair. That is why most of us sport our curls during this season. We can’t have our hair done every day only for the cold weather to mess it up!

During December, a cold morning with dew covering leaves and car windshields can be a sight to behold. Personally, relaxing indoors and sipping a hot drink is what I love most. The decorations are what give our beautiful city that extra glow. The Christmas lights, the sparkling ribbons, and Cathedral’s loud Christmas carols make you want to wish every stranger walking by a Merry Christmas.

I don’t know how the elderly feel about the 25th. For us, the youth, it is all about enjoying the holiday and making the best of it. For some, it may be having dinner with friends, family, or a partner. For others, it might be hanging out at pubs and going to parties. For many, the period is all about going to church and singing Christmas carols the entire night, while for others it is about taking time off work and spending it in one’s own company. However, at the end of the day, most of us end up enjoying the holiday, regardless of how we choose to celebrate it.

Traditionally, exchanging gifts during Christmas was rare in our country. However, increasingly, Eritreans have begun to exchange holiday gifts.

Not to sound like a Grinch, but it seems that many of us (especially the youth) are a little too focused on the 25th. It is good to enjoy this day, but it slightly bothers me to see that we don’t pay enough attention to the 7th of January. The 7th, of course, is the Christmas that the majority of Eritreans celebrate. If anything, the elderly are the ones celebrating what some youth call Geez Christmas.

Eventually, they will be gone and with them may go our traditions, culture, values, and customs. As the youth of a young nation, if we don’t preserve our culture and traditions, where does that leave us and where are we headed? Many of us don’t even know why the majority of Eritrean Christians celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. To be honest, I don’t know why either. However, after having made an early New Year’s resolution to know why we celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, I am happy to share the following.

Around the world, the majority of people who celebrate Christmas Day, whether for religious or cultural reasons or both, do so on 25 December. However, followers of the Orthodox churches generally celebrate Christmas Day on January 7. This has to do with the different calendars we use and due to the difference in calendars. Thus, January 6 marks Christmas Eve for many Orthodox churches and Christmas is celebrated on January 7th.

In Eritrea, while we use the Gregorian calendar, we have retained the Julian calendar (or Geez calendar as we call it), to celebrate traditional and religious holidays. As such, there is a difference of 13 days between the two calendars and thus we also celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January.

Like December, January is a very important month in Eritrea. The Christian faithful begin the month of December with a fast (consisting of an all-vegetable diet) that lasts 40 days and ends 7th January. On that day, Christmas is celebrated with feasting and a lengthy church service.

We – and I am referring particularly to the youth – must celebrate Geez Christmas just as much as we celebrate the one on the 25th of December. It deserves its own decorations in our own traditional ways, with our own gifts, special dinners, carols, masses. How many of us go shopping for the 7th of January? Almost none!

In my opinion, we are lucky to celebrate two Christmases. In fact, it is a testament of the religious harmony and respect that we have in the country.

May you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.