Festival dates 2019/2020

With 2020 being a leap year, it is worth drawing readers’ attention to how this affects dates for festivals for 2019 until the end of 2020.

The Julian Calendar used in Ethiopia recognises leap years, but it deals with them very differently to the Gregorian Calendar used in Europe, North America and most other parts of the world. In Ethiopia, Pagume, the five-day month that immediately precedes their New Year (Enkutatash), is expanded to be six days long in any leap year, and this will happen the year before any given leap year as recognised by the Gregorian Calendar.

So, in 2019, Ethiopian New Year will fall on 12 September, instead of the more usual Gregorian date of 11 September. Furthermore, the Gregorian equivalent to all subsequent dates in Ethiopia will be a day later than usual until the two calendars fall back into their usual alignment on Feb 2020.

This affects festival dates for 2019 & 2020 as follows:

The next Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash) will be on 12 September 2019

Meskel 2019 will be on 28 September instead of 27 September (though the Demera / bonfire procession will take place on the afternoon of 27 September afternoon, except in Axum, Lalibela and Gondar, where it will occur on the early morning of 28 September).

Another important Christian landmark, the day dedicated to St. Mary Zion, is normally held on November 30 but will fall on on Dec 1 in 2019.

In most of Ethiopia, Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) 2020 will fall on 7 January as usual. This is because Genna is normally celebrated on 29 Tahsas on the Ethiopian calendar, but it falls a day earlier on leap years, i.e. 28 Tahsas, so the Gregorian equivalent is always the same, irrespective of whether it is a leap year. Take note, however, that Lalibela forms an important exception to this rule. Genna in Lalibela is always celebrated on 29 Tahsas (aka Bale Egziabher, or Christ’s birthday) which means that the main religious ceremony there will be held on the morning of 8 January on a leap year such as 2020. It is also possible that churches elsewhere in the country dedicated to Bale Egziabher (such as the one close to Trinity/Selassie Cathedral in Addis Ababa) will follow Lalibela’s lead on a leap year.

Timkat (Epiphany) 2020 will fall on 20 January (though the eve ceremony is on the afternoon of 19 January)

Ethiopian New Year 2020 will fall on 11 Sep as usual, and Meskel 2020 on 27 September.

Big thanks to Yared Belete of GETTS Travel and Tours and Mark Chapman of Tesfa Tours for clarifying several confusing points mentioned above!

Note that this slightly contradicts information in the current Bradt Guide and many other sources stating that Enkutatash and Meskel fall a day later than usual on leap years. They do from an Ethiopian perspective, but from our perspective these two holidays actually fall a day later than usual the year before a leap year.


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