Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a Christmas fanatic. Few things bring me more joy than my mom’s Christmas decorations, I’ve had more than one Christmas party in July, and I struggle to make it to Halloween without breaking out the Christmas carols (I know you feel me, Rach!). So I was a little unsure how I’d handle the holiday season not only continents away from home, but in a country that celebrates Christmas 3 weeks later than most places and in a much more subtle way.
Silly me for worrying because once again, Ethiopia did not disappoint! This has turned out to be one of the neatest and most unforgettable Christmases I’ve ever had, and I’ll always cherish the memories of my Ethiopian Christmas.
Before my friend Xavi left to spend Christmas in India, we kicked off the holiday season with a sheep slaughter and barbecue at Yaya Village. I wasn’t thrilled about watching Amente slit a sheep’s throat, drain the blood out of its neck, hang it upside down, and peel its skin off… but animal slaughtering is an important holiday tradition here and quite a privilege for those who can afford it, so it was an honor to participate. And the sheep tasted delicious.
Countries represented at the barbecue included: Ethiopia, England, Australia, United States, Somalia, Sudan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Ukraine, and Djibouti. A pretty stellar mixture I’d say! It was cool chatting with them all over dinner and continuing the night by a toasty bonfire.
Thanks to Julia, who comes from a German background and so celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, I then got 2 full days of Christmas-ing. On the 24th, Julia and her boyfriend Kevin treated some friends to Stollen, a traditional German cake made of sweet bread, dried fruit and marzipan. Although the temperature was in the 80’s, we paired it with hot chocolate and macchiatos and lounged in the sun until it was time for our afternoon run. Julia also gave Dan and I about the best gift I could hope for: apples! They’re serious luxuries around here as they have to be imported, and so Kev brought some from the UK as a special treat. It was almost 2 months since my apple, and it was even better than I remembered!
When it was time for our evening run, Julia, Celia, Richard and I decided to keep the holiday spirit rolling by turning the jog into a straw hunt. We talked about buying straw from one of the fields we run though and using it to make Christmas decorations, and thankfully Kevin was on board to bike with us and lug the straw home. The farmers we bought the bundle from were thrilled with our purchase, but even more entertained by our unusual request. I’m pretty sure we turned into the neighborhood joke as Kev resembled a white mule on wheels and was shedding straw strands the whole way home.
For Christmas Eve dinner, Julia and Kevin provided a beautiful homemade centerpiece, red wine for the table, and a steady stream of Christmas music on their ipad. We dimmed the lights, talked about our family traditions, and enjoyed some nice Ethiopian steaks. I was thankful to have such great company for dinner, as they helped take my mind off my family getting all ready for my dad’s birthday feast and Christmas Eve mass. They also helped me realize how luxurious it is for my whole family to be together- thanks to Matt and Luke’s Colorado stints and now my world travels, 2013 will mark 4 years since all 6 of us spent Christmas together. Talk about a cause for celebration! I’m excited just thinking about it.
My Christmas morning couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. I woke up at 5:30, hiked up to Entoto, ran 12 miles, and hiked down- a perfect time for reflection on the real reason for this holiday as well as the countless blessings that enrich my life so much. Back at Yaya, I grubbed on some peanut butter and honey pancakes and coffee while enjoying the cloudless, 80-degree weather. I also opened a super thoughtful gift from Dan- a frame with one of my all-time favorite pictures from Ethiopia so far. I’ll carry it with me for the rest of my trip and will love having a constant reminder of this incredible part of my journey.
Around midday, my 5 British friends and I headed down the road to Banchi’s house, where she and Tgerida were preparing an elaborate coffee ceremony for us. They know how important the holiday is and how difficult it is to be away from home, so they went to great lengths to make it a really nice afternoon. Tgerida prepared the coffee while Banchi worked on the shiro and salad, and both of them sweetly served us first, seconds, and thirds until it was all gone.
They also demonstrated and taught us some Ethiopian dancing (see below), and had some good laughs at our pitiful attempts, which I won’t indulge you with.
After a few hours, things started wrapping up and Banchi presented Julia, Celia and I with wrapped gifts: beautiful wooden necklaces and bracelets. Once again, I was overwhelmed with her generosity and immensely grateful for all she and Tgerida did to make our Ethiopian Christmas one to always remember.
Dan and I then headed into Addis to ensure that we’d have reliable internet to Skype with our families. I was overjoyed to get to talk to and see Mom, Dad, Rach, Matt, Luke, Grammy, Chris, Deb, and even Emma, and felt like I was right at home with them. I could have used a little brunch puff, coffee cake, Lavazza coffee, Mariah Carey on the speakers, a cheeky letter from Santa, and a lazy morning around the fire… but I’ll definitely settle for a long, uninterrupted chat with the people that mean the very most to me on the most important day of the year.
I never imagined that I’d be able to fully enjoy Christmas without my family, friends and lifelong traditions, but my Ethiopian spin on the holiday turned out to be pretty spectacular. It was refreshing to be disconnected from the materialism that twists the holiday so much back home, and I will try to carry that mindset with me for many more Christmases in the future. While I don’t wish to spend another Christmas away from home (or another Christmas Eve not in my sister’s bed), I’m thankful for the personal growth that this holiday fostered and the people from all corners of the globe who made it so special.