21 December 2022
We are approaching the Christmas holidays and we are all grappling with trees to decorate, church services, traditional family dishes to prepare. But how is it celebrated in Eritrea? Most of the faithful follow the Coptic Orthodox Church, here is what it is all about and the main traditions
According to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the youngest of the Oriental Orthodox Churches established in 1993, in 2022 Christmas is celebrated on 7 January. The feast is preceded by a period of Advent that lasts 40 days, like Lent, and during this time one abstains from eating meat, poultry and dairy products. A very significant and ritual number: 40 are in fact the days of fasting of Moses on Mount Sinai when he was preparing to receive the Ten Commandments, and 40 are the days of the prophet Elijah’s pilgrimage to Mount Hareb; 40, and in this case years and not days, are still the period of wandering in the desert of the people of Israel before entering, purified, the promised land.
Fasting, considered by the Copts a fundamental and irreplaceable exercise for the spirit and mind
to listen to the word of God, begins in the morning and lasts until the early hours of the afternoon when the celebration of Mass ends, then we have lunch but still abstaining from foods such as meat and its derivatives (cheese, butter), eggs, fish.
On Christmas Eve, one goes early to church to gather in prayer in anticipation of the midnight Christmas Mass, which ends around three o’clock in the morning.
On Christmas morning (the end of the fast) one starts with a hearty breakfast of gaat (polenta), fitfit of kicia (chopped flatbread seasoned with butter (tesmi) and berberè), or stew of meat and sheep or, goat or, veal innards.
Christmas lunch is very important and menus like this are prepared for the occasion:
Starter: Dulot (dish with offal and spices)
First course: Zighini (spicy meat dish)
Main course: Alliccià (which can be vegetable-only or mixed with meat)
Currently, the side dish of rice is popular to mitigate the spicy flavour of the food.
The drinks that accompany the meal are: Sua (made by fermenting daguscià and other spices) and Mies (mead).
Christmas is a great social moment and in the afternoon, people converse while tasting traditional Eritrean coffee with Himbascia (a sweet loaf of bread) and popcorn (called imbabà). In the evening we all dine together with leftovers from lunch.
We take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! (Ruhus Lidet ygberelna!)
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