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Religion in Ethiopia

Religion is part of Ethiopian life

Bole Medhane Alem church in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia has Christianity as its dominant religion but Islam is the faith of over one-third of the total population. A few others adhere to Judaism as their religion, which was the prevailing religion centuries back. Ethiopians embraced Christianity in the 4th century, long before Europeans, in fact. The biggest and grandest festival celebrated in Ethiopia is known as the “Timkat” or the “Feast of the Epiphany” which is observed every 19th of January.

A priest with a cross and a bell

A priest at the hot springs in Wondo Genet stands with a big wooden cross and a bell. Photo by Mikkel Grabowski

Some Christian holidays that are regularly commemorated in Ethiopia are Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Meskel, or the search for the True Cross. Most of these Christian celebrations are also made state holidays as a sign of reverence to people’s religious convictions.

Thimkat celebration

Friends greeting eachother at Thimkat in Addis Ababa

Some notable Muslim holidays are Ramadan, Arafa or Id Al Adha, and Muhammad’s birthday, which falls on 14th of June. Also, on these days devotees are expected to spend their time at their place of worship. Families have three days of mourning for the departed family member. The Christian faithful departed are buried in church grounds while Muslims are buried in the grounds of a mosque.

Christianity in Ethiopia

People using a purple umbrella to shade for the strong African sun in Hawassa with the golden roofs of Saint Gabriel church in the background

All over Ethiopia beautiful churches can be found, even in the smaller villages the church and religion plays an important role in Ethiopian society. The priests are often seen walking in the streets with their long robes and characteristic walking sticks.

One should always be careful in bringing alcoholic beverages to social gatherings since a large number of Ethiopians belong to the Muslim groups who deeply believe that social drinking is unacceptable. The feast always ends with rituals like hand washing and coffee drinking. In addition, a person needs to take off his/her shoes before entering an Ethiopian home.

In the far south of the country, in- and around Omo valley the Hamers, Mursi, Dassanach and other tribes takes nature as their object of worshipping and they have unique cultural traditions, most strikingly displaced in their style and appearances.

bulljumping ceremony in Ethiopia

Woman from the Hamer tribe in Omo valley dancing to get into trance during a traditional bulljumping ceremony. Photo by Mikkel Grabowski

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