Genna (Ethiopian Christmas)

Genna is the local name for Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas and the celebration is on January 7th. Why not on December 25th? It is said that date is chosen by Western Christian Churches as Christmas Day to replace popular pagan celebrations in Europe. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church doesn’t follow this.

Although services are at every church (the more important one on Christmas Eve), Genna is most of all a celebration at home with family. It is the break of (one of the many) fasting periods and people enjoy lavish meals together.


One place is different though and very much of interest for the visitor. The Genna celebration is very colorful in Lalibela. It coincides with the birth of King Lalibela, the famous founder of this remarkable town. Thousands of pilgrims from all over Ethiopia travel to the town.

On Christmas Day everybody congregates around the Bet Maryam Church. Clergy takes a position on the cliff and in the courtyard around the church. They are symbolizing the angels (on the cliff) and the herds (in the courtyard) praising the Lord when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Genna in a leap year

The Ethiopian calendar is causing a lot of confusion with the dates of the celebrations in a leap year. Basically, the dates are shifting to a day later from September 11th until February 29th. Therefore the Genna celebrations in a leap year are on 8 January. However this is is only in Lalibela, the rest of the country is always celebrating Genna on January 7th.