MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir.
MR. ROB SACHS
And I'm Rob Sachs. And welcome back to "Metro Connection," where this week we're celebrating the DMV as a global region. And with that, we'd like to wish those in the Ethiopian Orthodox community a Merry Christmas.
Or Melkam Gena, perhaps we should say. And while many people in the world celebrate Christmas on December 25th, Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7th.
MS. AMARETCH TADEME
I used to think we had January 7th because we did not hear about Jesus being born because of the location and what have you. I really thought it's because we heard it late.
This is Amaretch Tademe.
People call me Amy Amarue (sp?).
For the story, we'll call her Amy.
And Amy is one of an estimated 200,000 Ethiopian immigrants in the D.C. area.
I was 17 when I came here and I've been here for about 40 years.
Amy says when she was a child, her family observed Christmas in both December and January.
My mom was raised with Europeans so she had the Christmas tree and so we celebrated European Christmas and then Ethiopian Christmas.
But as a teenager, Amy finally learned the reason behind the two different dates. See, the Ethiopian Orthodox church, like, say, the Eastern Orthodox church, uses the ancient Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, that's the one Pope Gregory the XIII introduced in the 1580s.
So it all changed by the Roman church. So that was interesting. At least it wasn't because we were late to hear it, that Jesus was born. (laugh)
As Amy explains, just like the December Christmas, Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas also commemorates Jesus' birth by way of the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve ate the fruit and they knew right away that they did something very terrible, wrong, because they start seeing each other as they are and, you know, they had to cover themselves and stuff.
So they were thrown out of paradise and the story goes, they started fasting and praying for help.
And then God came and said, okay, after five and a half days, I'll be born from one of your children and I'll save you.
I, meaning, Jesus Christ. But here's the thing.
In God's year, one day is a thousand years. So five and a half days became 5,500. So from that moment on, we pray he will be born and save us.
And in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, that praying is accompanied by a kind of fasting, restricting your diet for the 40 days leading up to Christmas.
During the fasting time, it's vegan. No dairy, no nothing.
Then on Christmas Eve, you refrain from consuming all food and drink. And...
...you go to church.
Amy is one of 550 members of the Debre Genet Medhane Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church in Temple Hills, Md.
MR. YOHANNES TAKLU
There's a special prayer for a couple of hours and then people go take a little rest and then come back around midnight.
And when they come back, says Yohannes Taklu, who immigrated from Ethiopia in 1960, they stay at church until 3:00 a.m.
And so the whole night we are here.
Reading and praying and chanting.
That's called a Mahlet. And there are special literature and special church music that's celebrated during that evening.
Like the long hymn or wherap (sp?) announcing Christ's long awaited birth. Truly, the lyrics say, truly his birth is amazing.
It starts very slowly and then after the birth, you know, the tempo picks up and we sing with joy and rapture.
Then when the clock strikes 3:00, everyone heads home and rests up for the Christmas Day festivities, like dancing, feasting and playing. Memhir Zebene Lemma, he is the head priest you heard preaching earlier, and he says the day is supposed to be about family and spiritualism.
MR. MEMHIR ZEBENE LEMMA
The main thing is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, you know. Not gifts, you know.
But he says that's starting to change for Ethiopians here in the U.S.
Here, you know, sometimes it's commercial, you know. But now in big cities also in Ethiopia, this custom is transferred. People do exchange gifts.
Nevertheless, church member Yohannes Taklu says, after half a century away from his home country, he's teaching his children and grandchildren the old ways.
I grew up here, so I had the American tradition, but coming back to my culture and I am seeing it's very, very religious. It's also a time of joy because we think our savior was born on this day.
As for Amy Tademe, she admits she still celebrates the December Christmas with her husband and children.
We open the gifts and stuff Christmas Eve, Christmas Day.
But as Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas approaches...
It's funny because we transfer to become Ethiopians all of a sudden. (laugh)
And she says her kids seem to embrace the old traditions.
I truly think they have it in their heart, that it's part of their culture.
And she hopes it'll stay in their heart for many Januarys to come. To see photos of prayer services at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Temple Hills, Md. and to try your hand at some traditional dishes served on Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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