The Ethiopian New Year falls in September at the end of the big rains. The sun comes out to shine all day long creating an atmosphere of dazzling clarity and fresh clean air. The highlands turn to gold as the Meskel daisies burst out in all their splendour. Ethiopian children clad in brand new clothes dance through the villages giving bouquets of flowers and painted pictures to each household.
September 11th is both New Year’s Day and the Feast of St. John the Baptist. The day is called Enkutatash meaning the “gift of jewels.” When the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with enku or jewels. The spring festival has been celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside.
The main religious celebration takes place at the 14th-century Kostete Yohannes church in the city of Gaynt within the Gondar Region. Three days of prayers, psalms, and hymns, sermons, and massive colourful processions mark the advent of the New Year. Closer to Addis Ababa, the Raguel Church, on top of the Entoto Mountain north of the city, has the largest and most spectacular religious celebration. But Enkutatash is not exclusively a religious holiday, and the little girls singing and dancing in pretty new dresses among the flowers in the fields convey the message of springtime and renewed life. Today’s Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal New Year greetings and cards among the urban sophisticated in lieu of the traditional bouquet of flowers.