Orthodox Christians in much of the world observe Christmas by the Julian Calendar on January 7th. My dear co-worker on the facilities crew is from Ethiopia. He prepared for Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas throughout their Advent fast: 43 days with no animal products whatsoever, no oils or fats, and no food (or water?) before or after his one small everyday meal at 3:30 in the afternoon. But all through the fast he kept working, charging ahead through the same laborious heavy tasks as always, on his feet from 6:30 to 3:30 every day. During fasting seasons year round, like his 50 days before Paskha, I like to bring fasting food to work. We sit and share our lunches; beans, vegetables, injira teff bread. He tells me wonderful stories about the culture and customs back at home.
On Christmas Eve, after a strict fast all day long, everyone enters church holding a lighted candle at 6:00 pm. There they stand chanting until 3:00 am — the hour of the birth of Jesus, when families go home for their Christmas feast. Here is a small glimpse of the festive celebration. (The churches of Lalibela are made of one solid block of stone, created by hand-carving down from ground level.)
On January 8th my colleague came looking for me, to wish me a Merry Christmas. In these pandemic times his own church was closed down, and he couldn’t travel to visit any of his relatives or friends in other cities. We couldn’t even share our lunch breaks; I had to leave his lunch in a labeled bag in the company fridge. All he and I could do to celebrate was stand with our masks on 15 feet apart, shouting greetings in Amharic and exchanging air hugs. But he was radiant with the joy of the season, and eager to leave a Christmas treat for me: the beautiful card shown above, and my own home-baked slice of fragrant honey cardamom whole wheat bread.
And to think that until this kind generous man came to work several years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about Ethiopia or its beautiful culture. Every day, there are people who live and work around us, carrying inside themselves the most amazing worlds of wisdom and beauty. Sitting in my cubicle and eating my bread, it was a blessing to think how human connections like these are a real treasure of life.
Hi Mary! I just decided to check in and here was this lovely story. Thank you so much. as alsways, your words touch my heart and make me grateful.
Peace to you and your friend.
Chaya, Shalom! Just today I was thinking about you and wanted to get back in touch and see how you are… Thank you so much! Will write soon! Masha
This is a wonderful account and much appreciated. Thank you for providing evidence that the spirit of Christmas is alive and well. Respecting and celebrating differences is a gift that you have shared generously. Thank you again. Happy New Year 2021 Maryangelis! I look forward to your next “words and grace.” Be well,
Thank you so much, Dear Reader. Isn’t it amazing, how people in our everyday lives carry these wonderful worlds of knowledge and beauty inside themselves. This dear co-worker introduced himself to me that first day, and I asked him what his Amharic name means. Well! He was delighted that an Anglo-American even cared to ask. We were friends from then on. Thank you so much for your kind words.