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Our Festivals: Arenas of Sustaining our Values and Heritage

By - Habtom Tesfamichael

Eritrea, a land of diversity, is rich in history and festivals. Many festivals are celebrated regularly every year at different places. These festivals are not just about celebration but imbued with deep inner significance of their own.

The day on which a particular festival is celebrated has a special traditional, cultural, national and religious significance, and certain observances on these days yield manifold benefits. All of these festivals are celebrated with great enthusiasm and harmony in a colorful atmosphere, and are enjoyed by all people.

Each festival is associated with its particular traditional, cultural, national and religious background that gives a deeper importance underlying the celebration. Each of the different religious festivals (for instance, the annual Abune Teklehaimanot festival of Sen’afe), national festivals (such as the annual summer Expo festival, the biannual Eri-youth festival, festivals in the diaspora communities), and cultural festivals are some of the common festivals Eritreans celebrate.

In the summer, in particular, we see festive atmosphere and colorfulness in the home country and the diaspora. In Eritrea as well as in the diaspora, festivals don’t just offer people a temporary reprieve from their daily grind. The festivals are not meant just for holidays but are related beautifully to life and bring in lots of happiness, color and entertainment to our lives.

Festivals keep us closer to our tradition, culture, religion and nationality. They promote harmony, carry the message of the past generations to the present and the future, create an opportunity of inheriting legacies our forefathers laid, help preserve our culture and heritage, give unique opportunities to gather and spend time with family, friends, and community, and relieve us of stress caused by the hectic working season. Festivals also create an opportunity where cultural views and celebrations are exchanged and build social relations and communications that lead to unity.

Festival Eritrea, which was held annually, started in Bologna, Italy, to create an opportunity of developing our national culture and identity. Eritreans in the diaspora from different parts of the world used to gather in Bologna in order to take part in the national festival consisting principally of cultural shows, seminars to update Eritreans on development in the struggle for independence, and contributions to the liberation struggle.

After independence, the annual Eritrean festival held at Expo was designed to portray the cultural traditions of the various ethnic groups and the presentation of local cultural material by the regions. The festival creates a space for visitors to have a glimpse of Eritrea and an insight into how the different ethnic groups live without having to travel all over Eritrea.

The National Eri-Youth Festival in Eritrea has strong connection to this tradition and shares various features with the Eritrean festivals conducted elsewhere. At this event, the youth celebrate their achievements and the valuable role Eritrean youth play in nation building, development, and in preserving national unity and sovereignty. This festival is conducted every two years in connection with the graduation of national service trainees at the training center in Sawa. The festival’s basic aim is to create a forum where the youth can show what they have been conducting individually and collectively and share experiences. This event is taken as part of the youth association’s main activities in connection with the Inter-College festivals.

The Eritrean festivals that are conducted annually by the diaspora communities in different countries are a continuation of the Bologna festival which was held once a year. The Eritrean festivals that are held in different countries attract thousands of people and create a forum for people who have been apart for a long time to come together, create a link with the homeland, share developments back home, and serve to introduce the culture of Eritrea to those Eritreans born abroad and others who want to know about Eritrea.

During the liberation struggle, national festivals played an important role in strengthening the support to the national cause by rallying Eritreans who were unable to join the liberation struggle for all kinds reasons and individuals, institutions and governments. After independence, the Youth Festival and the other cultural festivals have contributed significantly to promote holistic nation-building and fighting spirit against external threats by highlighting a common vision.

Our national festivals reflect the cultural and historical heritage of our country, highlight the beauty of our cultural diversity, teach the benefits of mutual tolerance and the taste of national harmony, and introduce citizens to the culture and lifestyle of the entire society. They are platforms that reflect our national harmony, transfer heritage and values, and inspire ideas and innovations.

In today’s globalized world, the cultural crisis facing new generations in many societies, especially diaspora communities, is not easy. There are many young people who are confused about which cultural environment to identify themselves with. In this context, the Eritrean festivals are important events that help the young to be proud of their identity, history, language, culture and traditions.

Our festivals are important gathering platforms that are serving as centers of attraction from all walks of life. A lot of these events have not been held after the Covid-19 pandemic. But we are hopeful that they will be resumed when the pandemic that has brought the world devastating crisis subsides.

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