The Unique Calendar of Ethiopia: Why There Are 13 Months
Discover the fascinating history and cultural significance behind the Ethiopian calendar, and why it consists of 13 months instead of 12.
The Ethiopian Calendar
Have you ever wondered why most of the world follows a calendar with 12 months, but Ethiopia has 13? The Ethiopian calendar is quite unique, with 13 months, and it has its own set of traditions and reasons for this difference. From the historical and religious significance to the cultural importance, the Ethiopian calendar holds a special place in the hearts of its people. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind Ethiopia’s 13-month calendar, its origins, and the impact it has on the country’s rich heritage and customs.
Ethiopia's unique timekeeping
As we explore the whys and wherefores of Ethiopia’s unique chronology, let’s turn the page on our Gregorian calendars and synchronize our watches to a timekeeping tradition that’s as old as the highlands themselves.
A Calendar Like No Other In a digital era where time is fleeting and the months blend into one another, Ethiopia stands with a foot in the past and eyes on the future. This land, rich in history and tradition, counts its days with a calendar that defies the 12-month norm, embracing instead a 13-month framework.
The Historical Roots: Origin of the Ethiopian calendar
Journey through the annals of time, and you’ll find the Ethiopian calendar as a testament to the country’s enduring legacy. Unlike the calendars that govern the West, Ethiopia’s is a living relic, an heirloom that traces its ancestry back to the Coptic Christians of Egypt. Its origin is shrouded in the sands of time, believed to be a direct descendant of the ancient Egyptian method of timekeeping, which was meticulously aligned with the rhythms of the Nile and the celestial dance of the stars. This calendar isn’t just a cycle of days and months; it’s a mosaic of history, religion, and astronomy, artfully interwoven into the fabric of Ethiopian society.
Connection to the Julian calendar
Ethiopian calendar is a sibling of the Julian calendar, a timekeeping system that was once the vanguard of the Roman world. When Julius Caesar commissioned the Julian calendar, he instituted a framework that would influence calendars for generations. As the Gregorian calendar gradually became the standard across the globe, Ethiopia maintained its Julian roots, a choice that encapsulates the nation’s reverence for tradition and its rich, ecclesiastical heritage. This dedication to an ancient calendar has profound implications, not merely in the extra month that it bestows upon the year but also in the cultural and spiritual rhythms that pulse through the heart of Ethiopian life.
The 13-Month Breakdown
The Ethiopian calendar is not merely a method of timekeeping; it’s an intricate lattice that supports the cultural and spiritual framework of the nation. Its twelve months are named and arranged as follows, each holding a unique place in the lives of Ethiopians.
Meskerem (September to October)
It’s the inaugural month of the year, a beacon of the New Year (Enkutatash) in Ethiopia, celebrated with songs, dances, and yellow daisies symbolizing new beginnings. It coincides with the end of the rainy season, ushering in clearer skies.
Tikimt (October to November)
The land, lush and satiated from the rainy season, offers up its bounty, and the harvest season is celebrated with Thanksgiving ceremonies known as ‘Demera’.
Hidar (November to December)
This month ushers in the season of the Advent Fast leading up to Christmas, known as ‘Gahad’ in Amharic, a time of spiritual preparation.
Tahsas (December to January)
It marks the celebration of Gena (Ethiopian Christmas) on January 7, a festival woven with traditions and ancient liturgies.
Tir (January to February)
Named after the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, it is a month that hosts Timkat, the Ethiopian Epiphany, an exuberant festival commemorating the baptism of Christ.
Yekatit (February to March)
As the climate starts to shift, this month often holds historical significance, marked by remembrance and reflection on past events.
Megabit (March to April)
A period of lent leading up to Fasika (Easter), it is marked by devout fasting, culminating in a joyous celebration that is both spiritual and social.
Miyazya (April to May)
This month, the countryside blooms with color and life, a testament to the Ethiopian ethos of living in harmony with nature.
Ginbot (May to June)
A time of political significance, it includes the commemoration of the Derg’s downfall, and nature’s preparation for the rainy season.
Sene (June to July)
The onset of the heavy rainy season, Kiremt, which is crucial for agriculture, begins in this month, dictating the rhythm of rural life.
Hamle (July to August)
Rain continues to fall, replenishing rivers and lakes, vital for sustaining the livelihoods of many and setting the stage for the next harvest.
Nehase (August to September)
It marks the end of the rainy season and the approach of the New Year, serving as a time of reflection and anticipation.
The additional month - Pagumē
In Ethiopia’s tapestry of time, there lies an additional month, a unique appendage to the conventional calendar — Pagumē.
Ethiopia's calendar in the global context
While the Ethiopian calendar remains a bedrock of cultural significance domestically, its interplay with the globally dominant Gregorian calendar presents both challenges and opportunities
Ethiopian businesses operating internationally must navigate dual calendaring systems to align with global market schedules, trade cycles, and international holidays.
Visitors to Ethiopia often find the calendar a charming peculiarity, enriching their cultural experience. The tourism industry caters to this by celebrating the unique timekeeping as part of the travel adventure.
For Ethiopians living abroad, juggling the Ethiopian calendar with the Gregorian system can pose practical challenges in daily life, from maintaining cultural practices to explaining their unique timekeeping to others.
Digital platforms, like smartphone calendars and scheduling apps, are increasingly accommodating the Ethiopian calendar, allowing for its integration into modern technological frameworks.
The distinct calendar system sparks curiosity and dialogue, fostering cultural exchange and understanding on an international scale.
Time Zone Communication
With Ethiopia maintaining its own time system (where the day starts at dawn rather than midnight), this can lead to interesting confusions and adjustments when communicating across different time zones.
As we encapsulate our exploration of Ethiopia’s distinctive 13-month calendar, we recognize it as a vibrant testament to Ethiopia’s rich cultural tapestry. This unique system not only diverges from the global norm by its count but also embodies the nation’s enduring legacy and pride. The calendar stands as a poignant symbol of Ethiopia’s dedication to heritage preservation, ensuring that the country’s ancient rhythms of time continue to resonate in the modern era, connecting its people to their historical roots while they stride forward in the global community.
Most frequent questions and answers
Ethiopia follows a 13-month calendar, which is seven to eight years behind the rest of the world. This calendar has 12 months with 30 days each and a 13th month with 5 or 6 days in a leap year.
Ethiopia still follows the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s calendar, which is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar.
The Ethiopian New Year falls on a different date than the Gregorian New Year due to the calendar difference. Ethiopia celebrates its new year on September 11 or 12.
Yes, Ethiopia uses the Coptic calendar for its religious festivals and the Ethiopian New Year, being seven years behind the Gregorian calendar.
Ethiopians are aware of the Gregorian calendar and even use both calendars interchangeably for different purposes.
In the Ethiopian calendar, a year has 13 months, while the Gregorian calendar has 12 months. Additionally, the Ethiopian calendar is 7 to 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar.