The Ethiopian Calendar

ethiopia calendar

Anyone who has ever been to Ethiopia knows that time works differently there. Just like Ethiopia has its own language, Amharic, so too does it have its own calendar. For example, while most of the rest of the world celebrates the end of the year on December 31st, Ethiopian New Year falls on September 11th or 12th, depending on the year.

How Does the Ethiopian Calendar Work?

Ethiopia uses a different calendar to the majority of the rest of the world, owing to a different calculation of the Biblical Annunciation to the Gregorian calendar.

Ethiopians use the Incarnation Era to indicate the year, which places the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus on March 25, AD 9 in the Julian calendar.

On the other hand, Europeans adopted a different calculation for the Annunciation which placed it eight years earlier, meaning that there exists a gap of 8 years between the start of the Ethiopian calendar and the Gregorian.

The Ethiopian calendar is derived from the Egyptian solar calendar but adds a leap day every 4 years without exception. Like the Egyptian Coptic calendar, the Amharic calendar is comprised of 12 months of 30 days each, with an additional month of just 5 or 6 days, depending on the year. Ethiopian calendar months begin on the same days as Coptic calendar months but are instead named in Ge’ez, the ancient language of northern Ethiopia and southern Eritrea.

If the differences between calenders all sound a bit confusing, don’t worry, there are plenty of Ethiopia calendar conversion services available online to help you figure out how the dating systems compare!

Important Dates on the Ethiopian Calendar

The Amharic calendar determines the liturgical year for the major Christian denominations in Ethiopia and its neighbor Eritrea, meaning that many of the major universally-celebrated holidays fall on completely different days. For example, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, which the Ethiopian Orthodox Church considers to be the day of Jesus’ birth.

Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Fast-breaking at the end of Ramadan in June, is widely celebrated in Ethiopia. However, the two biggest annual Ethiopian holidays take place much later in the year. Ethiopian holidays in September include Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) and Meskel, one of the most important religious festivals in the country.

Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash)

Ethiopian New Year usually falls on September 11th but falls on the 12th in years before the Gregorian leap year. Known as ‘Enkutatash’ in Amharic, the holiday marks 1 Meskerem or the first day in the Ethiopian calendar as well as the relative end of Ethiopia’s rainy season.

Local legend also pegs it as the date when the historic Queen of Sheba returned to Ethiopia from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem. Her advisers apparently showered her with luxuries as a welcoming gift, hence the name Enkutatash, which means the ‘gift of jewels’ in Amharic.

Ethiopian households all over the country light a huge bonfire and celebrate with singing and dancing, while young girls are encouraged to gather daisies and present bouquets to their friends. The largest religious celebration takes place in the Ragual Church on Entoto mountain near Addis Ababa, where thousands gather to pray together and take part in colorful and lively processions.

Meskel in Ethiopia

An even bigger religious festival than Ethiopian New Year, the Meskel “True Cross” Celebration takes place on September 26th or 27th. Held annually in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, the festival commemorates the supposed discovery of the “True Cross” on which Jesus was crucified.

The legend goes that in 4BC, the Roman Empress Helena was able to locate the important artifact in Jerusalem by using the smoke from a huge fire. The celebration is especially important to Ethiopians as it’s alleged that a piece of the cross Helena discovered was brought to Ethiopia, and hidden away somewhere in the mountains of Amba Geshen.

Ethiopians commemorate the find by building their own massive bonfire, the Meskel, which they decorate with yellow daisies before burning. Ethiopia’s religious leaders lead colorful processions and prayer around the fire, and attendees intently watch to see which way the bonfire will collapse, as it’s believed to predict the future.

If you want to better understand the Ethiopian calendar and experience one of the major Ethiopian holidays in September for yourself, it’s a good idea to get the Ethiopia eVisa before traveling, in order to beat the inevitable border queues that form during this busy time of year.

Discover the major festivities with the eVisa

Currently, only citizens of Ethiopia’s neighbors Kenya and Djibouti can enter the country visa-free, for periods of a year and up to 3 months, respectively.

To travel to Ethiopia and experience Ethiopian New Year and the other most important dates of the Amharic calendar, most travelers are required to either get an Ethiopia visa on arrival from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport or complete the simple Ethiopia eVisa application online. Many prefer the latter option, as getting the Ethiopia visa online before travel saves time and hassle of queuing at the border on arrival.

The initial Ethiopia eVisa requirements involve having a passport valid for at least 6 months from the date of arrival in Ethiopia, as well as a valid credit and debit card to pay the visa fee. After completing the quick and easy application, it’s also required to supply the following:

  • A copy of the applicant’s passport information page
  • An up-to-date passport-style photograph in color
  • A copy of the applicant’s residency card (if applicable)

The simple form takes only minutes to complete, with most applications processed within 24 hours and at maximum within 3 working days. Although a single-entry visa, applicants for the Ethiopia eVisa can choose between either a 30-day or 90-day validity, allowing for the chance to experience more than one of the major holidays of the Ethiopian calendar.