N’gdet Abuna-Qudus Claus

….Christmas has come a long way from its Pagan origins. Hmmm! May be not…..

Ruhus beAl Lidet !

“…A child will be born to us, a son will be given to us.” Is. 9:6.

I have always loved Christmas. That is not what I meant. I have always loved ‘Lidete- kristos.’  Growing up in Edagahamus, Asmara, I was very conscious of my Christian roots and heritage. I celebrated this holiday with relish, like all the kids of Asmara. It was the 1980s. May be because the perks of holidays like ‘Lidet’ have always been irresistible.

For starters, you don’t have to go to school. That is like heaven in itself. You get a new makeover; unless the hair cut was exacted at Enda Gurja the barber, a torture, plain and simple. New clothes, especially the ‘Saryan’ catapults a child to adulthood. New ‘Skraba Chipolini or Dahlak’ you can proudly present to the local ‘Listro’T’qa enda machelayo zelo’, unlike the dreaded occasions where your shoes are too disfigured the ‘Listro’ had take considerable period of time to try to figure out by himself what the color of the shoes was,‘ Tselim? Qeyih? Maroni?’ only to give up and to look up to ask you the question! Now you want to make up for these humiliating days and you run to comfortable shoe shine stand for the least acceptable reasons. (Remember that little tap-noise to side of the box meant to tell you to switch the other shoe!)

Of course, at the heart of holidays, like ‘Lidet’ lies the much-cherished tradition of goat/sheep slaughtering. Living few minutes from the Wall Street of the holidays, the Edaga-Hamus livestock market, my family enjoyed peculiar turf. We had the mental luxury of picking the animal at leisurely pace (plus the inside information of (live) stock markets). More importantly getting that goat (my father preferred goats for slaughter) home safe at the Kanchelo without much harassment is an advantage few ‘hoods enjoy. If you don’t feel convinced may be you should contrast that with this graphic scenario. A family that spends half of its day dragging and pushing its kicking and screaming, defiant sheep though the treacherous ‘marchabedi’ of Asmara all the way to ‘Godaif’ should not be surprised when it ends up at last at that ‘kanchelo’, having a sheep with a good chunk of its hoof gone trimmed in inhumane (or rather in-animal) treatment. Moreover, living in EdagaHamus accords you the necessary information of where to sell the hide skin and at what price (again insider stock information.)

The downsides of holidays are always to be downplayed–very quickly. Eating like there is no tomorrow, a la’ Mr. Creosote, invariably takes its toll on lowly, austere stomach. Thus the impulse to go (I mean run ‘Usain Bolt’ speed) to the already occupied washroom is admittedly maddening. The only consolation and relief comes “Eritreans live by comparing and contrasting their agonies” from the sound of your own voice and therefore you can’t wait to tell your younger brother who just arrived breathless to ‘take a number’ ‘Rigaka Haz’!

One of the things people were really good at is ‘rigaOm mihaz’ and outwait, outlive. That was the 80s. One of the things people are really good at is ‘rigaOm mihaz’ and outwait, outlive. This is 2010s. Issaias Afewerki wants to live another forty years. Eritreans are waiting to outlive him in 41 years. Out of the 6.8 billion people, Eritreans would unquestionably rank number one in their preternatural talent to ‘wait and see.’

Dante! Kurocho! Hama!

One of the things I disliked about holidays was the long line-ups at cinemas. I mean them spoiled kids of Tiravolo and Compushtato who never watched  “9teTifeA, 3te derfa” nay Hindiyane filim (not film) suddenly overnight turned into  faithful disciples of Amit and Dharmendra (I always preferred Daru BTW) and (over)took our turfs at Dante and Kurocho-Riesa (yes Odien was overpriced). That was just because their rich uncle gave them money and they could pay with that money for the whole neighbourhood kids who never ventured outside their insulated cocoons. The result unconscionable and even passably condemnable (with strongest terms possible, Dergue billboards was full of them, in them good ol’ 80s) line up at the movie theatres. If you get to beat that (told ya’, we are very good at waiting to see) long queue to SEE, you end up seeing half no a quarter of the ‘filim’ from a slanted angle; you don’t know who just slapped you; in the heroic commando-style operation of searching for a better spot, you lost three of your friends to the crowds (you were four when you anxiously waited and entered the theatre). You screamed as a big guy has stepped on your foot, nobody listens for the noise of the (over) crowd drowns your little squeal because it was raised to levels unstudied dwarfing Oprah’s favourite gifts-audience, and the reason the ‘Hayala’ Amit just slapped the obese Amjad Khan silly! The only option would be to choose ‘cinema Hamasien’, but don’t even let me start about that one (take that Samu wedi Bizen) No, No, No, movies in holidays was no fun for them, us the all-year long faithful.

I could go on for a bit about them holidays (as if I didn’t). Yet I meant to share some series (I mean serious) staff about Christmas or ‘Lidet’. I was carried away probably I wanted to because I feel I would be underachieving if I wrote a page after my last article which was around October or something, and I need only a page to say what I wanted to say in respect to Christmas. Thus the above welcome feeler.

Ok, ‘Abbey iye neyre emo! Yes, I love Christmas as holiday. I always did. My brother says that it is because I like babies. He also further explains away traditional Christians do love the birth of Christ because to think of God as a baby is something they can take simply and sweetly as distinguished from the say Easter, ‘Fasika’ which would tend to come with the heaviness of the meaning of the Cross, the duty to ‘win and achieve victory’ over death. No wonder Simon Peter didn’t want Christ to die on the Cross. There is something infinitely alluring and subliminally justifiable about the story of ‘ BeAl Hade Meklit!’

Yesus, Mariam, Yosief!

“..For they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” Mat 1:13. Much has been conceded for ‘Lidet’ to be markedly clouded as religious/cultural holiday, never has it yet been overlooked what it actually meant: the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. It all starts with St. Mary, a deeply venerated and beloved saint of the Geez Rite Eritrean Christians. Dan Brown cashed the simplistic premise of ‘the feminine goddess’ to hundreds of millions of dollars (I bet you he would not have dared to write his religious thrillers and codes had he got to study Geez Orthodox Christians’ millennia old fixation and devotion to Mary). Anyways, back to story of Virgin Mary. And Kudus Yosief; emphatically and repeatedly being told as legal guardian of Mary, so that your inquisitive (read dirty) mind never dared to entertain the likelihood of him being her spouse. In fact don’t call him Yosief, ‘Aytizentlo’, call him Yosief Aregawi ( the latter meant ‘the old’ to boot!

The nativity story is one of the sweetest stories of the bible. The star in the East. The SebeA Segel, the Magi’s. The day’s ‘sibket’ at the mass signifies the event. ‘Nigeste Tersies w’e deseyat Amha yabew’u…/ Kings of Tarsus and the islands submit gifts. The shepherds who bowed to the Prince of Peace. Herod’s retribution and the massacre of the babies of Bethlehem. Rachel weeping in Rama for her children and ‘refusing to be consoled.’ Eritrean version, testament to its perennial predilection to the long-suffering, commemorates the day ‘Hiyo Hitsanat’ which actually literally falls the next day after Christmas. Boxing day, a consumer apogee for West is a solemn day of sadness for our mothers. There you have it, two societies, the consumerist and the weeping. To escape Herod’s wrath, Santa Famiglia fled to Egypt. Orthodox version adds another twist—of course apocryphal. On the banks, Mary was watching the river flow (of course, Nile) and Baby Jesus asked her if she liked it. She said very much. He then endowed the land of the origin of the river to her. So Ethiopia became the ‘Resti’ of St. Mary. May be Meles Zenawi could invoke this story in the row with Egypt over Nile.

 ‘Lidet’ decidedly was all about Christ’s birth for Eritrea’s Christians.

And ‘Enda Shaebia!’

Now a little ‘TeHan kenewtse.’ PFDJ has embarked on relentless quest to dispel existing heritage and identities. ‘Geezawit’ Eritrea and Kebesa values are on top of its list. For instance, it is nothing but crude political calculation at the expense of millennia old customs to switch our new year from Meskerem Hade (Qudus Yohannes) to January 1st. Isn’t so sad to see Geez Calendar simply now known as Ethiopian Calendar as if it doesn’t belong to us too? (BTW: In party allegiance, I would vote for conservative party if we ever had one; picture me). In its obsession to distinguish from Ethiopians, PFDJ eroded our proud geez heritage with a stroke of pen; most probably with a verbal utterance of hang-over-ed psycho we call the President of Eritrea.

Now do you know that in PFDJ’s Eritrea, Christmas (Dec. 25) is also a full-blown holiday? Why? May be ‘for the heck of it!’ which is very good reason as far as PFDJ goes. So you have 25 December a Christmas day and around 7 January (29 ‘Tahsas’), a ‘Lidet’)? What is next? Introduction of Halloween? Silly me, it was long introduced. Dressing up as liberators and scaring the population away, Eritrean Draculas and vampires have sucked our blood, our dreams, our soul. Even during the broad day light.

Gudofom Bejaka ileka! Back to Christmas.

N’gdet Abuna-Qudus Claus Vs. Birth of Jesus Christ

When I came to Canada, it was culture/religious shock to notice Christmas was less about Jesus Christ but about that so much beloved and endeared character called Santa Claus.  Donned in red garments, with white cuffs, Santa comes from North Pole, with his reindeers and elves, sneaks through the chimney and delivers gifts at the foot of Christmas Tree for the good children. You take your kids not to church (some do go) but to malls to see Santa and take pictures on his lap. It was a shock to see nativity story of Jesus Christ was relegated to midnight mass only. Much has been said about the commercialization of Christmas. Christmas, “Lidet” back home is Jesus Christ birthday; in West it is ‘Nigdet Abuna-Qudus Claus. In the west, I concluded it is not Christian holiday, but secular…you could even say pagan. I was in this crestfallen mood (even rooting for the Grinch) for some time.

Then in early 2000s, I watched in horror as one CBC documentary deconstructs the history of Christmas. It was an eye opening show. I learned Christmas time holiday actually predates Christianity. It has got to do with feasting and dancing at the arrival of winter solstice. This holiday has long been celebrated before the birth of Christ. Probably it was as old as Nile itself. It was even banned in early Middle Ages (European) as it was a pagan holiday. Then acknowledging they couldn’t stop it, some church leaders (around late 4th century) overtook it and made it about birth of Jesus Christ to placate the pagans. In all probabilities, December was also not the birth of Jesus Christ. Faced with overwhelming evidences, I had to grudgingly accept of the fact that Christmas had pagan origins. In fact I later made peace with it.

At first you may think Christmas come a long way from its pagan origins. The way it is celebrated by mainstream modern society in the West, you realize it IS still a secular or even pagan holiday. Indeed, Christmas, in its old glory of pagan feasting, dancing has made full comeback in our consumerist society.

Happy Holiday Season! Wish Eritrea a happy new year!

The nation that sat in darkness,
saw a great light…Mat.4:16

Addendum: Now you don’t believe this but it is true. I was just asked by one of the coordinators at the agency I work at a serendipitous question. Since the assigned individual could not make it, the coordinator pleaded, if I could fill in for him as the kids are waiting. Everything was ready, she urged. The question: Could you please be Santa?

I almost fainted.


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