The country where the year lasts 13 months


A woman blows a trumpet in front of a procession to celebrate victory at the Battle of Adwa - March 2021, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

A woman blows a trumpet in front of a procession to celebrate victory at the Battle of Adwa – March 2021, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopians celebrate the start of the new year, with a feast being held in many homes despite the hardships caused by rising prices and the crisis of war and hunger in the north. Find out more about Ethiopia’s unique calendar and cultural heritage.

1) The year lasts 13 months

Not only that – the Ethiopian calendar is also seven years and eight months behind the Western calendar, making Saturday the start of 2014.

This is because it calculates the year of Jesus Christ’s birth differently. When the Catholic Church adjusted its calculations in AD 500, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church did not.

So the new year falls on September 11 in the Western calendar, or September 12 in a leap year, at the beginning of spring.

Oromo people celebrate Iricha in Bishoftu, Ethiopia - 2017

During the Erisha celebrations in the Oromo community, fresh grass and flowers are placed in the water to thank God for the onset of spring

Unlike children who have grown up elsewhere, there is not much need for Ethiopian children to learn rhymes to remember the number of days in each month.

In Ethiopia it is simple: 12 months each have 30 days and the thirteenth – the last of the year – has five or six days, depending on whether it is a leap year.

The time is also calculated differently – the day is divided into two 12-hour periods starting at 06:00, making it 6pm and midnight Ethiopian time.

So if someone arranges to meet you in Addis Ababa at 10am for a cup of coffee – Ethiopia is after all the birthplace of the Arabica bean – don’t be surprised if they show up at 16:00.

2) The only African country that was never colonized

Italy attempted to invade Ethiopia, or Abyssinia as it was also known, in 1895, when European powers were dividing the African continent among themselves – but it suffered a humiliating defeat.

Italy was able to colonize neighboring Eritrea after an Italian shipping company purchased the port of Assab on the Red Sea. Then the confusion that followed the death of the Ethiopian Emperor Johannes IV in 1889 allowed Italy to occupy the highlands along the coast.

Knights in a procession to commemorate the Battle of Adwa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - March 2021

A procession is held every year on the occasion of the Battle of Al-Adwa – the 125th anniversary was in the month of March

But a few years later, when Italy tried to penetrate further into Ethiopia, it was defeated at the Battle of Adwa. Four brigades of Italian forces were overwhelmed within hours on 1 March 1896 by the Ethiopians serving under Emperor Menelik II.

Italy was forced to sign a treaty recognizing Ethiopia’s independence – although it was violated by fascist leader Benito Mussolini decades later, and occupied the country for five years.

One of Menelik’s successors, Emperor Haile Selassie, capitalized on his Italian victory by lobbying for the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union, based in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Our freedom is meaningless unless all Africans are liberated. Selassie said at the launch of the Organization of African Unity in 1963At a time when most of the continent was still ruled by European powers.

People walking with the Ethiopian flag on Flag Day

The three main colors of the Ethiopian flag have come to represent African unity – many post-colonial countries have adopted them

He invited those leading the anti-colonial struggle for training – including South African Nelson Mandela – who obtained an Ethiopian passport, which allowed him to travel throughout Africa in 1962.

Mandela later wrote of the special place Ethiopia held for him before the trip: “I felt I was going to visit my upbringing, and discover the roots of what made me African.”

3) Rastafarians worship Emperor Haile Selassie

This stems from a 1920 quote from influential Jamaican black rights leader Marcus Garvey, who was behind the Back to Africa movement: “Look at Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of salvation is near.”

A decade later, when the 38-year-old Ras Tafari (or Chief Tafari) was crowned by Ethiopia’s first President Haile Selassie, many in Jamaica saw this prophecy come true, and the Rastafari movement was born.

A mural depicting Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley and his sons on the grounds of the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, in May 2019

Haile Selassie (left) denied that he is immortal

Reggae legend Bob Marley was instrumental in spreading the Rasta message—and the lyrics to his song, War, he quoted the Emperor’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963 calling for world peace: finally and always discredited and abandoned… Until that day, the continent wouldn’t know African Peace”.

The main track of Marley’s Exodus, named by Time magazine as the album of the 20th century, reflects the Rastafari’s desire to return to Africa, which millions of people were forced to leave during the transatlantic slave trade.

Crowds at the airport to greet Haile Selassie in 1966

Tens of thousands of Rastafarians greeted the Ethiopian emperor when he went to Jamaica in 1966.

To this day, a small Rastafari community lives in the Ethiopian town of Shashamene, 225 kilometers (150 miles) south of Addis Ababa, on land that Selassie granted to blacks from the West who supported him against Mussolini.

Selassie, an Orthodox Christian, may not have been a Rasta believer, and insisted he was not immortal, but Rastafarians still revere him as the Lion of Judah.

This is a reference to Selassie’s alleged lineage, which Rastafarians, and many Ethiopians, believe can be traced back to the biblical King Solomon.

4) Home of the Ark of the Covenant

For many Ethiopians, the sacred chest holding two tablets with the Ten Commandments that the Bible says God gave to Moses was not lost – Hollywood Indiana Jones They just went to the city of Aksum.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church says the ark is under constant guard on the grounds of the Church of Our Lady of Zion in Axum, where no one is allowed to see it.

Tradition says that the church had these precious relics thanks to the Queen of Sheba, whose existence may be disputed by historians, but not by Ethiopians in general.

They believe she traveled from Aksum to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon to learn more about his famous wisdom around 950 BC.

The story of her journey and temptation to Solomon is detailed in the epic Kebra Nagast (Glory of the Kings) – an Ethiopian literary work written in the Ge’ez language in the 14th century.

It tells how Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, gave birth to a son – Menelik (meaning son of the wise) – and how he traveled years later to Jerusalem to meet his father.

Solomon wanted him to stay and rule after his death, but he agreed to the young man’s desire to return home, and brought him back with a group of Israelites – one of them stole the coffin, and replaced the original with a forgery.

When Menelik found out he agreed to keep it, believing it was God’s will for it to remain in Ethiopia – and for the country’s Orthodox Christians, it remains sacred and something they are still willing to protect in their lives.

This was evident last year, during the conflict that erupted in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia, soldiers from Eritrea reportedly attempted to loot the Church of Our Lady of the Virgin in Zion following a horrific massacre.

A city government employee told the BBC that young men rushed to the site to protect the ark: “Every man and woman they fought, shot and killed some, but we are glad we did not fail to protect our treasures.”

5) Home to the first Muslims outside the Arabian Peninsula

The Prophet Muhammad is said to have told his followers when they first encountered persecution in Mecca in the seventh century, in present-day Saudi Arabia: “If you go to Abyssinia, you will find a king who will not tolerate oppression.”

An Ethiopian Muslim stands inside a damaged shrine at the Negashi Mosque, one of the oldest in Africa and allegedly damaged by bombing, in Negash - March 2021

A shrine in the historic Nejashi Mosque was damaged in the ongoing Tigray conflict

This was at the time when the Prophet had just begun his sermons, which proved so popular that he was seen as a threat by the non-Muslim rulers of Medina.

On his advice, a small group set out for the Kingdom of Aksum, which then covered much of present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea, where they were already welcomed and allowed to practice their religion by the Christian king Arma – whose royal title in Ge’ was ez Negus or Negashi in Arabic.

The village of Negash, in what is now Tigray, is where these immigrants are believed to have settled and built what some consider the oldest mosque in Africa. Last year it was the Negus Mosque Bombed during the fighting in Tigray.

Local Muslims believe that 15 of the Prophet’s disciples were also buried in Negash.

In Islamic history, this move to Aksum became known as the First Hijra or Hijra.

Today, Muslims make up approximately 34% of Ethiopia’s population of 115 million.

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