History of Ethiopian New Year: What is Enkutatash?


Why is your friendly neighborhood historian writing about the Ethiopian New Year? A couple of years ago the Washington Post interviewed me for an article they were publishing on the subject. The Washington D.C. area has over 200,000 Ethiopian-Americans who celebrate the holiday this year on September 9. A group of local Ethiopian activists and businessmen want to make the day, known as Enkutatash in Ethi­o­pia, a part of the American roster of holidays, in a way that is very similar to St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. Columbus Day, for example, was popularized out of Denver, CO back in the mid 19th century as a way of promoting Italian culture.

  • Meaning

Enkutatash is the name for the Ethiopian New Year, and means “gift of jewels” in the Amharic language. The story goes back almost 3,000 years to the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia and Yemen who was returning from a trip to visit King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem, as mentioned in the Bible in I Kings 10 and II Chronicles 9. She had gifted Solomon with 120 talents of gold (4.5 tons) as well as a large amount of unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia her chiefs welcomed her with enku or jewels to replenish her treasury.

  • Celebration

The celebration is both religious and secular with the day beginning with church services followed by the family meal. Young children will receive small gifts of money or bread after the girls gather flowers and sing and boys paint pictures of saints. Families visit friends and adults drink Ethiopian beer.

  • Date

The Ethiopian calendar is a unique form of the Coptic calendar, derived from the earlier Egyptian calendar. On September 12, 2007 Ethiopia celebrated its bi-millennial, or 2,000 years from the Annunciation of Christ. Why is their calendar 7-8 years different from the West’s Gregorian calendar? In the West, the calendar was calculated around A.D. 525 by Dionysius Exeguus a Roman monk-mathematician-astronomer who based his calculations for the birth of Christ on an erroneous date for the death of Herod the Great. In the East, an Alexandrian monk named Panodorus did his calculations differently back around A.D. 400 for the Egyptian calendar.

  • Modern Day

As I mention in the article for the Washington Post, the availability of modern social media and Internet resources makes the promotion of this ethnic and cultural holiday more visible for this Diaspora of African and Caribbean peoples. Kickstarted by the Ethiopian African Millennium Group back in 2007 this effort to promote the holiday was sponsored by Starbucks Coffee Company and the African-American Civil War Museum as 30,000 people came to the Washington Monument. Other major American cities like San Jose and Seattle also celebrate Enkutatash.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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11 comments… add one
  • Yes you are good writer but you failed to acknowledge “ancient Ethiopia” starch from Nubia(northern Sudan ) to Current Yemen. And queen Saba come to power also from north part Ethiopia. Funny history we were that much big. we were big and we will be big again with God will.

    • Thanks for the comments. Some of my readers don’t even know where modern Ethiopia is. This is why I put a map in the article.

      I also didn’t mention the Ethiopian official referenced in the New Testament during the early church in Acts 8:27.


      • what do you mean when you write modern etiopia? you are saying that before she was different? (most (more land) or located in another area?)

        • By “modern” I mean contemporary, the Ethopia of today in contrast to it’s history of 3,000 years ago.


  • insightful!

  • this is so helpful on my report thxs!!!!!

  • you have write well! from what you said it looks like our calender is derived from egyptions….but from our anciesters we know that we have our own calender, if it was derived from ethiopians why the difference

    you make it sound like we dont have our own…..but we had and we do!!!

    • The Egyptian calendar predates the Coptic calendar which was before the current Ethiopiaan calendar. The Egyptian calendar is also earlier than the Western world’s Julian and Gregorian calendars.


  • very nice and interesting history..Very thankful for having studied one of the most beautiful event in Ethiopia..There are such a lot of beautiful chnants related to the New Year / Enky Tatatsh coincides also to the coptik Saint John- festivity and christians renewed their baptisim date as well

  • What a fallacy!
    Enkutatash has nothing to do with those fairy tales. Truly Enkutatash is about blossom of the land which is clearly evidenced by a mass of flower that jewels in the landscape of the country at the entrance of Ethiopian/Kush New year.


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