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Ganna (Leddat, Ethiopian Christmas)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: January 7
Where Celebrated: Ethiopia
Symbols and Customs: Ganna, Gift-Giving, Sistrum
Related Holidays: Christmas, Epiphany, Timkat


Christianity was established in Ethiopia in the fourth century, when a Christian from Syria named Frumentius traveled there and influenced the local ruler. At the time, Christianity in Syria was under the domain of the Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt. Thus, so was the new church in Ethiopia until 1959, when the Ethiopian Orthodox Church separated from the Coptic Church of Egypt.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar. This means that they observe Ganna or CHRISTMAS on January 7, just twelve days before TIMKAT or EPIPHANY and at the end of a forty-day period of fasting. Unlike the celebration of Christmas in the West, however, Christmas in Ethiopia has remained primarily a religious holiday, untainted by commercialism and costly GIFT GIVING . It is, however, the occasion for a spirited game of field hockey, the popularity of which has led to naming the holiday, which is officially called Leddat, after the game, GANNA .

The day begins with a 3:00 a.m. church service. Everyone is given a candle upon entering the church, which is typically designed around a circular floor plan. After lighting their candles, people walk around the inside of the church three times before taking their places. Because Ethiopian churches do not have benches or chairs, everyone remains standing throughout the entire three-hour service. Priests dressed in robes and carrying SISTRUMS keep the beat of the religious dances that follow, which are also accompanied by the tapered drum known as the kabaro.

The traditional meal on Christmas is injera, a flat sourdough bread that has been cooked over an open fire, dipped in a spicy chicken stew. But the highlight of the day comes after the midday feast, when the game known as Ganna begins. It is similar to hockey, and it is usually the men and older boys who participate because it can get very rough. The game begins late in the afternoon and continues until it is too dark to see. This is the only day of the year on which it is played, and the winning team is honored afterward by going from house to house to receive gifts and refreshments.



According to legend, when the shepherds received the news of Jesus' birth, they were so overjoyed that they celebrated with a spontaneous game of field hockey, using their crooks for hockey sticks. The modern game of Ganna still uses curved sticks to drive a hard leather ball across the playing field toward a goal line.

Perhaps because it is only played on the Christmas holiday, there is a tendency for the game to get out of hand. Bloody cuts, bruises, and even broken bones are not uncommon, and the winning team often taunts the losers by shouting insulting limericks in their faces.


The giving of gifts at Ganna is nothing like what goes on during the Christmas season in the United States. It is only the children who receive gifts from their parents, and the gifts themselves are usually simple and inexpensive, such as clothing or a small toy. Ganna


The sistrum, known in Ethiopia as the sanasel or tsenatsel, is a ceremonial rattle that dates back to the third millennium B . C . E . It became popular during the time of the pharaohs in Egypt, where it was used to mark the cadence of religious processions and ceremonies and where it consisted of a handle with an enclosed drum or resonating chamber. As used today by Orthodox Christian priests in Ethiopia, the sistrum consists of a forked frame across which small metal disks or coins have been strung on wire, so that it rattles or jingles when shaken. During the church service held on Ganna, the priests use both the sistrum and the prayer stick-a t-shaped pole similar to a crutch-to keep the rhythm during the ceremonies and dances.


Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Shemanski, Frances. A Guide to World Fairs and Festivals. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.


Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Ganna (Genna)

January 7
The Christmas celebration in Ethiopia, which is officially called Leddat, takes place on January 7 ( see Old Christmas), observing the Coptic Orthodox calendar. But it is more popularly known as Ganna, after the game that is traditionally played by boys, young men, and occasionally elders, on this day. According to legend, the shepherds were so happy when they heard about the birth of Jesus that they used their hooked staffs to play ganna—a game similar to field hockey. Pilgrims gather in the spectacular medieval churches in Lalibela for services, music, and food.
AnnivHol-2000, p. 6
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 151
BkHolWrld-1986, Jan 7
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 228
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 28
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 74
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