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Memories of Home at Christmas




My adolescent experience of celebrating Christmas mirrors the experience I see in European countries. I remember how children would march in military fashion, parading in military style and led by a musical band. That was one of the virtues of a modern school that was Tefari Makonnen, which is now on the verge of celebrating its 90th anniversary.

I remember how the logo of the school was of a woman milking a cow, perhaps an illustration of how knowledge is to be milked, the ingredient one needs to be successful and be content in life. The dark brown plate, with golden colored drapes, all around beautiful represented a coming of age of our youthful days.

All these symbols made us feel like a family, a unit to be celebrated and valued. The prestigious school had ample students, with day and boarding school program that accommodated us all. I remember times spent the within the school’s high-rise buildings and cemented floors, classrooms with glass windows.

The holidays brought the Emperor, his ministers, and high notch officials to watch us perform holiday carols of St. Gabriel, St. Mary or the Madonna revelation. Students would line up beautifully, with straightened collars. We would walk side by side to receive gifts, sweater, biscuits or an orange fruit. This was done in front of all the audience awaiting the Imperial Palace Compound.

That hall was later named “Lidet Adarash,” meaning the Hall of Christmas, derived from the word Christmas gifts of sweets and cakes now common and rather a ritual in Europe from where the Ethiopian Emperor must have copied. The festivities of the holiday began early in those days. That was the time when PT (physical training) teachers get very busy teaching drilling and parade.

The massive big drum in white color had the full name of the school in Amharic all around the conference room. The drummer beat the suites with the little beating sticks wrapped in balls of white textile.

But the most attention grabbing point was the stick thrower leading the band a few meters in the front. There were beaters of smaller drums, some carrying trumpets and bugles. The stick with colorful embroideries around was thrown up in the air and caught in style for a rebound. The walking style of the leader, Sisay by name, was the most striking show to see.

Add to that show, the fact that every student was clad in white uniform. At the Frand Palce compound, the stage where students of the theology school staged their perennial show of the Bethlehem symbol, where the little baby was born and the seventy plus travelers, were also a favourite. Led by the light of a star, came in search of the Madonna and Child with gifts of all sort of things. That seems to be the base for the present-day donations of all sorts of gifts.

Talking about wearing uniforms, the General Wingate Secondary School wore typically different than the normal khaki uniforms worn by students in other schools. They had black woolen jackets with a special narrow rim in yellow color all around the sleeves in double lines. The Menelik II students wore rose colored uniforms. The total number of students in the capital did not exceed the spending powers of the Imperial Government.

In the neighborhood of the first modern school in Ethiopia, the Menlik School, was located the first college whose students wore blue black coat with the badge on their chest on their left side and grey woolen trouser. They walked on foot along the Haile Selassie Street, more as a show off more than anything else. They brandished their carefully tailored suits.

Every student in secondary school with ambitions and wished to be seen in that woolen suit at any cost required to make it there, the level of prestigious qualifications. When the emperor donated the whole palace compound to the university, that tent -pitching field was the “Lidet Adrash” or the hall for university students to use as dining hall till this day.

Traditionally, however, Gena was also the name of the game played between neighboring villages separated by a river or a book or any other mark of settlements. The participants play the polo using sticks with a bend at the end. Elderly villagers sit by the side of the field and watch the game. There are no limits on the number of players.

The game closes when it is sun set. In case the wooden ball hits someone accidentally no litigation was expected. There is a line in prose that goes to say, “In a game of Gena, the Lord will have no complaint.” At last sarcastic poems will be played one team ridiculing the opposite team and enjoy the booty of bread and home brewn “tella”.

As it is harvest time, a recess time for the ploughing oxen, enjoying food or rather meaty food is almost the ritual. Meat sharing by raising funds and baking homemade bread with a dried cow dung fire is also part of the enjoyment too.

But the business aspect of Christmas cannot be skipped in the open market, particularly the poultry stand with the roosters crowing and the cattle market. It is true where there are herds of sheep and goats.

Merry Christmas! Melkam Gena!



By Girma Feyissa


Published on Jan 10,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 871]


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