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Eritrea: The Saint John holiday Celebrations

Photo courtesy of of EastStar


By Saron Weldemichael

The New Year in the Geez calendar commonly known in Eritrea as St. John is celebrated on the 11th day of the month of September. One of the major holidays in Eritrea, although the Geez New Year is considered a religious holiday in some ways, it is also a day to celebrate the coming of spring as it also heralds the end of the rainy season and a whole new season to collect the harvest.

The beauty and color of the celebrations every year are simply dazzling. These celebrations are joined by the greenness brought through the rainy season and blooming wild flowers with it. According to oral traditions, this celebration back in the days was called “the gift of jewels”. The spring festival has been celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside. In the evening every house lights a bonfire and there is much singing and dancing.

Even at this time, weeks of preparations are made starting from the youngest children following their older siblings’ every move to every parent thinking about how much to spend on the kids’ new shoes and clothes. Personally, one of the first fascinating things of the upcoming holiday is young children, particularly girls, singing complements with their small hand drums (kebero) and raising money from the people they sing their complements to; this is called Mewedas. The money collected can be spent on the day of the holiday as the kids prefer to. This tradition is most commonly known in the urban places, the custom of the bonfire or the torch (Shig) in individual cases is a norm that is common to both the urban and rural habitants. The rural population values this custom more than those who live in towns. Besides, in the Geez calendar, it is New Year, and the young boys ran with the burning torch lifted high, singing songs which herald the coming of a bright new season and a farewell to the past year.

As celebrations in any culture go, there are some fundamental elements that make it feel like a holiday. One is the food the more the merrier and quality is as important as the quantity. another thing is the new gifts we receive, be it clothes or jewelry it adds some sweetness to all the joy and finally the family spirit and get together, which is the most fundamental when it comes to holidays celebration. This holiday is no different as it magnifies the customs of the Eritrean people, their kindness, determination in bequeathing their ways and beliefs to a younger generation.

One of the customs to be passed on is, the ritual of Backum’e, which is practiced mainly by the young girls in villages. Back in the days, the young girls would  head to the nearby lake, pond or river in groups every day, for 5, 6 or may be 7 days depending on the leap year, prior to the holiday of saint John. Bachum’e is practiced in the belief that the washing of the body before the coming of the New Year will get rid of the brunt of the previous year the saying “ out with the old, in the new comes to full effect”. this unique tradition of the cleansing of the body is solely restricted to the Orthodox church followers in the horn of Africa (but still not limited to a religious holiday). The night before saint john’s holiday, the boys (most commonly) gather up to torch their Shig and it is a celebration from then when the elders may come to watch but they don’t usually stay for long since it’s a night for the youngsters, the singing and dancing continues until late night.

The day of the feast starts off by the whole family going to church to give thanks for all they had received the year before and declare what they covet for the next year and pray that the almighty will deliver. Most families in the urban areas would stay home, celebrate and enjoy the day with their families as the kids can be seen going around in their neighborhoods in their new clothes and wishing passing by people a happy holiday, while in the rural areas, it is customary for villagers to visit their families in far off land or somewhere close to home. either way, no matter how, where and with whom one spends the holiday, it is still a time to appreciate and ponder the primacy of family and love in all things.

Happy Saint John’s day

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Eritrea: The Saint John holiday Celebrations Reviewed by Admin on 8:27 AM Rating: 5

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