This time of the year, the weather
in Addis Abeba is so beautiful and sunny albeit the extremely chilly morning and
evening hours. Of course, it can be worse if past trends are taken into
consideration. However, the past few days’ preparations and X-Mass shopping’s
seem to undermine the cold weather at down or dusk, and even the scorching sun
at noon. The consecutively hammering commercials heard blaring day in and day
out are also agents that amplify the sales drums.
Listening carefully to some of these
holiday skewed commercials, particularly those that advertise quick and trusted
money transfer services, one would but wonder why these same outlets denounce
economic migration of women from Ethiopia in spite of the remittances and money
transfers they anticipate to bank on.
Some of the other commercials that
try to draw markets in the food and entertainment sector appear to address the
elderly taking pains to listen while the announcers raise their voices with
their tongues in their cheeks. This statement, of course, does not include those
sponsors that give away a couple of sheep intended to be slaughtered for the
holiday as prizes for answering simple quiz’s or even being among the few who
are given access to the telephone line of the radio show.
Every time this writer thinks about
Genna or the Ethiopian X-Mass, he is carried away by old school day memories
when Emperor Haile Selassie and his spouse used to hand out, in person, X-Mass
gifts of a woolen sweater, wrapped sweet biscuits and an orange to every child.
That annual gift ceremony was not only a gesture used to inculcate the concept
of generosity in the minds of all school children but also a kingly
manifestation of the Emperor’s passions to introduce modern education in
Ethiopia. It may be a historical irony that the Emperor had later to pay dearly
for his persistence to educate the youth who grew up to depose him from his
The annual ceremony of Genna is
preceded by few days of rehearsal of processions using the football patch as a
parading ground. In the case of the former Taffari Makonnen School, which was
only a stone-throw away from the national palace, where the ceremony took place,
a thorough marching exercise used to be conducted by three retired members of
the Imperial Body Guard.
The students were made to lineup in
rows of four according to their height with shorter children lining in the
front. Teachers stand in the middle of the parading ground so that every student
would be able to listen to the marching orders.
On the Christmas days, all students
gather in school in the early hours of the day wearing their white attires.
Everybody takes position before the procession begins assisted by the marching
music band. The students march like soldiers in firm and regular steps, maintain
their paces and lines keeping up their heads.
Christmas parade was a moment when
all the students regardless of their color and creed. They feel equal wearing
the same type of uniform and marching like soldiers in the middle of the road
closed for traffic other than the student parades.
The then national palace, which is
now the main campus of the Addis Abeba University, accommodates all the students
from every public school in the capital. Large green tents embroidered with red
silk were pitched for the Emperor and his escort. Short plays depicting the
birth of Jesus as it happened in Bethlehem were staged in front of the royal
families before Christmas gifts were handed out.
Genna which is also the name of the
stick used for playing games bearing the same name, is held at Jan Meda, a field
located on Russia Street, the same afternoon.
The stick is usually not more than a
meter in length and carved from a branch of a tree preferably with a bow shaped
end. The ball is wooden and the game is played between two teams, each with a
dozen members. In rural Ethiopia, villages separated by rivers or administrative
units make up the matching teams.
At Jan Meda, polo game matches on
horsebacks are played between two teams. The game is played with long handled
wooden hammers to strike a small wooden ball. Scores are canted like goals with
the ball passing between two make shift goal marks. The reference is also
mounted on horseback. The game is played usually between the police force team
and the members of the Imperial Body Guards known as Makuria.
At home, the celebration focuses
much on dining and wining. Big oxen are slaughtered in villages and shared
between fund raisers. In many homes, chicken and rams are killed.
Over the years, however, families
with foreign exposure celebrate X-Mass like Europeans. Gifts are exchanges, and
trees are pitched and decorated. Many Middle class families try to enjoy the
holiday by joining entertainment centers. The majorities remain fixed in front
of their TV sets, keep listening to the radio or rewind memories of the olden
days when money used to buy something.