History of Ethiopian New Year: What is Enkutatash?

Ethiopian FlagHISTORY 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 11. 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. Typically this is the end of the long rainy season and the countryside is covered with yellow daisies. The day begins 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

Ethiopia mapThe Ethiopian calendar is a unique form of the Coptic or Alexandrian calendar, derived from the earlier Egyptian calendar which influenced the Julian 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 Exiguus 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 (or Annias) 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
www.billpetro.com

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21 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      -Bill

      Reply
      • 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?)

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

          -Bill

          Reply
  • insightful!

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

    Reply
  • 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!!!

    Reply
    • 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.

      -Bill

      Reply
  • 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

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
  • ,That is you are a scholar or aprofeshn because you put all the Ethiopian New year history thank you we have so many culture,beliefs ,nations and nationality so on jest like that share it for other world.

    Reply
  • Good article, but it did not adequately explain why there is a difference of 7/8 years between the Ethiopian calendar and the Gregorian calendar.

    Reply
    • Two different calendar calculations done by the Western and Eastern parts of the Roman Empire. 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.

      Reply
  • Do you know we, Ethiopians, have 13 month? The 13th month has 5 days and 6 days in every 4year. I hope Starbucks recognize this very well.fyi

    Reply
    • Yes, twelve months of 30 days plus five or six epagomenal days, which comprise a thirteenth month. Thanks for the comment jojo.

      Reply
  • thanks for your article. I think what Dr. Jaffer said about Enqutatashi is also shared by many Ethiopians. I would also like to know your sources for your version. Please do not qoute me that I am not saying your version is wrong. The problem here in Ethiopia and Africa, most of our histories are not recorded and documents. Most of them are transfered from generation to generation orally.

    Anyway do you have any idea why September 11 or 12 is chosen as a satrt of a new year ? any specific reason? why not September 27? It shame to ask a foreigner about my cuture and history but has no harm.

    thank you.

    Reply
    • I’m sure that having the hillsides “jeweled” with yellow daisies is a visible and perennial reminder of the beauty of Ethiopia. What Dr. Jaffer Shiffa does not say is how he knows the history recounted here is incorrect. Any web search will confirm my account. As to the date of Sept 11/12, it has to do with an alternative calendar calculation of the date of the Annunciation of Mary.

      Indeed, Ethiopian folklore recounts that red dates, so prized during these holidays, were a favorite of Mary. She was sitting under a date palm and took a bite out of a red date and broke a piece of her tooth off. Children consume one date after another in search of the Virgin Mary’s missing tooth.

      Reply
  • GOOD ARTICLE. I heard once in 600 years the 13th month” Pwagme” will have 7 days.

    Reply
  • I highly appreciate your subject and details about the Ethiopian New Year and the calendar they apply such information was very interesting .
    I always wondered why they had a seven to eight years in the calendar and in age, as this situation seems to influence the age as the date of birth ,year wise is according to their calendar .
    I wish to know more , why our new year is on the 1st of January and their’s on 11th of september although due to their location it is spring now.
    Thank you once more and wish more people will profit of your lessons

    Reply
    • Sam,

      Thanks for the comments. I discuss their calendar in the article, but why does our calendar year start on January 1? Thank the ancient Roman Senate and Julius Caesar for that. I explain it in some detail in my article here: http://billpetro.com/history-of-new-years-day

      -Bill

      Reply

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