The unique tradition of Ethiopian Christmas under COVID-19


There is no greater feeling than the ‘come together feeling’ of the holiday season. The Ethiopian Christmas itself presents this great and joyous warm feeling and is popularly referred to as Genna in Amharic. Genna over the years has always been a pinnacle of vibrancy but this season the lights have dimmed down as a result of the pandemic.
Amongst the festivity, Christmas is a year where stores, homes and streets alike are filed with decorations. Similarly, during Genna boutiques are often spotted displaying red cloths, Christmas lights are lit as well as huge Christmas trees decorated in the corners or entrances of malls. The Ethiopian Christmas is often quite unique from the rest of the world as it is always welcomed by a 43 day fasting prior. Although the fast has been smooth thus far, the holiday market seems to have become a bit slower and much quieter, a shadow of what it once was.
Genna is often embraced with joy and celebrated in groups of friends and family by eating an array of scrumptious Ethiopian delicacies such as ‘Doro Wot’ (Ethiopian National Chicken dish), lamb stew and mouthwatering beef stews accompanied with Injera and traditional drinks. However, a myriad of challenges stemming from the pandemic effect/ burden, current situation of the country, slow economy have become a negative contributor for the slow season as ‘business becomes very slow.’ Slow season is a common complaint shared by both parties’ between the consumers and the buyers. The capital in previous years was graced by the presence of cattle, chicken and eggs amongst a flurry of activities in different streets but that seems to have fizzled.
Muktar, who owns boutiques at Megenagna recalls previous Gennas as seasons where the streets were full of activities filled with high purchasing power by the consumers. “At Christmas time, we usually sell kids cloths at a rapid pace. Similarly, cloths for other ages are also high. This time round there is low demand despite having clothing products,” Muktar noted as he expressed how much the degree has killed the pockets of the consumers.
Beside the boutique business, the cattle market in the capital has become low unlike recent seasons where cattle would have been sold out within the first two weeks before the holiday.
During the holidays, it is always fun to visit holiday expos at the Addis Ababa Exhibition Center, which is buzzing with exciting crowd, music and food. However, the shopping experience might be less fun this time round. This comes after the restriction to public gathering and closure of Bazaars and Expos following the pandemic outbreak. After a yearlong break, the last week of December served exhibitions at exhibitions at different places of the capital. The prices are comparatively lower to the normal market and as result people flock in numbers to save their coin whilst having a great experience. Trade fairs have been difficult to take part across the country owing to the insecurity challenges and the pandemic. The Genna Expo that was recently launched showed low turnout. The vendors lamented of the low turnout as opposed to other years as well as reluctance to purchase items. The expos are still on going at the Ghion hotel.
As expected, the holiday market also reflected a slower movement of things as well as not so cheap goods. Food items a household necessity during the holidays. These food items can range from groceries to live chicken, eggs, sheep and butter.
Traders in the capital, source their butter, eggs and chicken from various parts of the country mainly from Harer, Gojjam, Arbaminch and Jimma. In most markets across Addis Ababa, the price tag for eggs currently ranges from birr 5.50 to 6 birr. The price of eggs has remained stable at the turn of the new year, despite low supply and demand as opposed to the previous trading of egg and chicken products in previous years.
Similarly, household items such as a kilo of butter ranged from 320 birr to 350 birr with not much increase projected than last year’s price.
A kilo of onions is priced at a price range of 13 birr to 16 birr which is almost similar compared to the price last year as well as during the past three holidays.
Like the onion market, a similar trend was also observed in the capital’s biggest cattle markets, Kera. Kera, one of the largest cattle market is waiting for the last days to in expectance for the market to rocket in sales. The supply of cattle comes from far and wide from the likes of Harer, Wellega, Bahirdar, Jimma, Gonder and Wolayita mostly used for the celebration. Though the country has been battling the pandemic and the recent conflict the price has stagnated.
For cattle acquired from Harer is said to cost 20,000 birr and that of Wellega ranges between 20,000 birr to 30,000 birr whilst Bahirdar 25,000-40,000 and cattle from Wolayta costs the least price ranging between 15,000-20,000 birr.
Fitsum, a cattle trader at Kera, says the market may show increase of 1500 to 2000 birr in respective prices at the last or peak final days of the holiday but not much increase will be expected when compared with last year. This is attributed by a decline in supply of the cattle related with the political unrest of the country.
During holidays it is a common scene to see herds of cattle, flocks sheep and goats that are to be consumed for the holiday along with men carrying live chickens in neighborhoods.
During the days leading up to Genna, a small sized sheep will easily sell for 3,000 birr with a midsized sheep costing 4,000 and above. The delight of having a sheep continues to be out of reach for many during the holiday and those who cannot afford to spend 3,000 birr will simply buy beef from the butchery to make a special meal.
Chicken, is another holiday favorite and is what many resort to, and for this holiday live birds were selling between 250 and 300 birr. As most people prefer to buy live chickens for religious and freshness reasons, processed frozen supermarket chickens still remain cheaper.
It’s not all about meat alone, vegetables remain as important during the holiday as well. Although not a lot of change has been seen with vegetables lately, some items such as garlic which skyrocketed around two years ago, hasn’t shown any difference. Garlic is sold for 60 birr per kilo; red onions which are extremely important for most holiday meals are sold for 16 birr per kilo, an improvement from last holiday when they sold for 18 birr per kilo. Tomatoes are going for 10 birr per kilo, while carrots are 8 birr and potatoes are 7 birr.
The above prices are usually found in open markets, prices at smaller fruit and vegetable kiosks around the city will be higher. As always, in some markets, shoppers will be able to get discounts if they are buying in bulk. Other shops such as Fresh Corner also provide discounts on seasonal produce and are worth checking out.
Although it is said the day before a holiday is the best time to by sheep and chicken, vendors usually get anxious to get rid of their stock and go home, there have been times that this has not been the case.
Optimistically, the slowing of everything will soon change and with a new kind of spirit in the air that seems to be felt, many are hopeful that things will pick up again.
The Central Statistics Agency’s monthly inflation data showed that the total inflation recorded in December 2020 was 19.5 percent higher than the same month last year.
Also according to the central statistical agency December showed a slight decline in grain prices.
Inflation compared to the same month last year shows current inflation, of which food inflation rose by 22.7 percent in December 2020. Most cereals (especially rice) this month, Teff, wheat, maize, barley and sorghum prices decreased slightly over the previous month. But meat prices continue to rise. Some foods, especially tomatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, carrots, butter, cooking oil, and cheese and eggs, have also declined. However, inflation in the same month last year was relatively low compared to the same month last year.
On the other hand, the inflation of non-food items index increased by 15.8 percent compared to the same month last year. Over the past few months, inflation in non-food items has been steadily rising. Inflation of non-food items in the index is one of the main reasons for the increase over the same period last year, especially in clothing and footwear, rent, home care and energy, furniture and home furnishings, home furnishings, medical and transport, especially in cars. It is an increase in prices. Overall inflation in December 2020 showed an increase of 0.6 percent compared to the previous month.