Christmas trees are a recent, but popular phenomenon in Ethiopia. Families shop for the best quality trees that they can find to decorate their homes with. The popularity of the decoration has spread beyond households into a growing competition among businesses for customers' attention. The larger the display, the bigger the crowd it draws, and the more revenue it attracts. With displays getting bigger and more elaborate, every year, some business are having to reach newer heights to keep customers coming back for more, as BEZAWIT ADMASU, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reports.
Addis has lit up in red and gold with the shine of Christmas trees and decorations. The most significant competitors that highlight this atmosphere are the hotels and malls. Christmas has become known in Addis Abeba as the time when high-end hotels and malls show off their incredible Christmas trees.
The competition of trying to stand out from each other on the concept of Christmas spirit has been fierce this year. The streets of Bole Medhanialem are warmed by the sight of small nativity scenes.
However, Mafi City Mall’s display contained one of the tallest trees in Addis, standing at 14 meters tall. The mall has arguably become one of the most visited scenes this Christmas holiday. The gate of the mall is crowded with people who want to look at the large tree and the accompanying decorations. People even park their cars to take pictures of the decorations.
Helina Temesgen, a mother of two, came to see the display with her young children, a boy of five and a six-month-old daughter. The young family was waiting in line to take a picture next to the live sheep and the model of the Nativity scene.
The streets of Bole Medhanialem are warmed by the sight of small nativity scenes.
“This is very entertaining, especially for my son,” said Helina. “For my baby it will be something to cherish as she gets older,” she added with a smile on her face.
Dawit Hagos and his friend Esayas Welde, were also taking selfies next to the display. He claims that this trend should be encouraged, instead of decorating with the same kinds of trees,
“Many people decorate with the same type of trees. Doing something different can create unforgettable moments for everyone,” said Esayas.
The tree was decorated by an up and coming event organizing company called, Holly Event Organizers.
“The tree was built for around 140,000 Br,” said Bethlehem Assefa, the marketing manager of Holly Event Organizers.
The Manager at Holly Events, Tewodros Seshaw adds that it was a labour-intensive process, as they had to import the green plastic leaves from China. They integrated 1,200 meters long light bulbs that were wrapped around the Christmas tree to give it the wow factor. Around 50 ornaments were used to decorate the tree, mostly from Merkato.
Holly Event Organizers were paid 80,000 Br to execute this task. The 170,000 Br expense was covered by the owners of Mafi Mall.
“The main reason that they organize such events is to attract customers with unusual sights,” said Bethelhem.
For the past four Christmases, Mafi had put a tree they bought four years ago for 300,000 Br. However, even without 14-meter trees, other establishments also tried to meet their customers’ expectations as much as they could.
Edna Mall, one of the biggest malls in Addis Abeba, had spent plenty on their Christmas tree. The store keeper who is in charge of its upkeep explained that it was bought two years ago in Ethiopia for 10,000 Br. The decorations were imported for about 100, 000 Br. This seems to be a trend among the bigger establishments in town.
The Sheraton Addis Hotel Marketing Manager, Kaleb Assefa explained to Fortune that the tree the hotel uses was imported 18 years ago. The Christmas tree being used by Sheraton Addis is 7 meters long with white leaves.
“We decorate trees and place them in the hallway, so as to attract more customers and generate the Christmas spirit,” he said.
On the other side of town, the price of Christmas trees appears to be less alarming. Seven days before the Christmas celebration, Merkato, ‘the capital city of Addis Abeba’ is glittering with Christmas decorations and trees.
“Business is better than last year,” said Tamene Sisay.
Tamene’s shop is a cosmetics store in the area specifically known as Bomb Tera. It was transformed into a gift shop for Christmas on December 20.
Tamene explains that there are three types of Christmas tree, the first being the Habesha Tree which comes in different sizes, the smallest one being 1.2m at the cost of 200. Then there is the 1.5m, 1.8m and 2 meter ones at the price of 400 Br, 600 Br and 1,000 Br respectively.
The accessories include string lights ranging from 30 to 150 Br. Christmas balls sell for 45 up to 75 Br.
“Last year, business was slow,” Tamene said. “We sold a maximum of 120 Christmas trees on a good business day.” Now, three days into the Christmas celebration, they sell around 250 trees per day.
Around a place informally known as Dubai Tera, a shop which used to supply uniforms has been transformed into a gift shop.
Hanna Abdiye was reshuffling her cosmetic products to the back to give more space to the Christmas accessories.
“The selling price for the decorations are the same at most places,” she said. “It is the trees that might have a varying price range.”
The accessories include string lights ranging from 30 to 150 Br. Christmas balls sell for 45 up to 75 Br. The bells each have six and four bells depending on their size cost 20 to 35 Br while other items such as the Santa’s shoes and dram’s also range from 15 Br to 30 Br. On the other hand, glitter decorations cost from 15 to 25 Br.
Around 9:30 in the afternoon, Teshaleche Assefa was looking at the Christmas trees, amazed at how their price go up each year.
“My kids are complaining about not having a Christmas tree, I had to buy them by their request,” she said. Teshaleche, a mother of two girls implies that even though Christmas trees were not a must for the Ethiopian Christmas celebration, nowadays all households put up those trees at least five days ahead of the Christmas date.
Teshaleche was negotiating with a street vendor named Hailu Tadesse ,for a style of tree informally known as the Habesha Tree at the price of 200 Birr. It got its name because it was the first of its kind to be imported to Ethiopia. Even though the Habesha Tree was the only type he has, he would not decrease the price.
“I would decrease the price if this was an ‘every day item’, but since it is seasonal I don’t see the need to do so,” said Hailu.
Selam Tesssema and her sister Hiwot Tessema took the day off from work just to buy trees. They were negotiating to lower the price from 1,500 Br. Even though the price was fixed at supermarkets, Selam and her sister were shocked by the high price tag on the 1.20m Christmas tree. The saleslady at Shoa claimed that even though imported from China, it is a good tree and that most customers unlike Selam and Hiwot tend to believe in the quality item they provide. The price for Christmas trees from the smaller size 1.20 meter being 1,500 Br to the 2.80 meters at the price of 15,000 Br.
A few years ago Christmas in the urban area was planned weeks ahead. On whether to buy a sheep or where the price of a hen will be less cost, whether to go to Merkato or would Shola be better. That all changed when Ethiopians incorporated Christmas trees into their celebration scheme. In the first 11 months of 2016, the country had imported 11 million Br worth of articles and artificial Christmas trees.
The world is becoming one, sharing its culture and beliefs, the changing face of Christmas celebration is one evidence of how the Ethiopian society is integrating its culture with the rest of the world.
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