Holidays spice up social life as they add flavour to a rather dry and dull routine daily life. They not only bring people together to create shared values but also reaffirm social bond and solidarity. However, due to economic, social and demographic changes, holiday celebrations are fading away in Ethiopia especially in urban areas like Addis Ababa. Hiwot Selalew explores the evolutions.
Not so long ago, Ethiopians used to celebrate holidays for days before and after the actual event with families, relatives, neighbours and communities. The celebrations cement family bonds as well as community relationships. They also deepen national identity. The stock of rituals during holiday seasons, including cooking traditional meal, brewing beverages and baking breads used to bring people together; they offer opportunities for people to reaffirm shared values and social ties.
However, holiday celebrations with their vital festivities are fading away in Ethiopia especially in urban areas like Addis Ababa. Of course, fast changing economic, social and demographic factors have profound effects on how society celebrates holidays. But, given the benefits that lie beneath the surface of the festivities such as tightening people’s connection with their identity and culture, abandoning the most cherished asset of any society may have its own adverse result on the society.
The dramatic changes on how people celebrate holidays are made more visible recently as Ethiopians bid farewell to last year and welcomed the New Year. Kirubel Tadesse, 37, was born in Addis Ababa in a neighbourhood called Beklobet in Kirkos District. Although he used to celebrate holidays, for instance New Year, with his family until recently, he now celebrates with his fiancé in the house he rented at Gotera Condominium site.
“Economic and societal factors forced me to celebrate holidays with less enthusiasm and away from my parents although I live in close proximity from my parents.” He told EBR. “Since me and my fiancé work [full day], we purchase already made food items that are necessary for a single day celebration instead of preparing the foods ourselves.”
Though holiday celebration is changing almost everywhere, urban residents that grew up in rural areas see the change as more dramatic than others. Solomon Dawit, a 29 years old English instructor at an elementary school in Addis Ababa, was born and raised in the state of Oromia. He gets emotional as he goes back on memory lane and reminisces about his childhood New Year celebration, which is an extended festive period from mid August all the way to early October.
“I am not happy with the way people celebrate the New Year in Addis Ababa. These days, everything has changed. People do not even make homemade traditional dishes and drinks. Instead, beer and cakes are served on holidays.” He lamented.
Solomon’s disappointment in the way people in Addis Ababa celebrate the New Year these days starts with the apparent decline in traditional ways of commemorating the special days starting with the Buhe holiday, where young boys engage in a ceremony of clamouring whips made of braded plant covers. During this religious and cultural holiday, boys go around their villages singing songs that signal the beginning of the end for the long rainy season and the start of spring where flowers blossom and fill the fields in the highlands of Ethiopia.
The culmination of this festive holiday, as Solomon recalls, ends with setting off bonfire where communities gather and bless the season with well wishes. Mothers prepare bread and tella – home-brewed malt and serve the boys.
Though witnessing some changes in traditional songs, Nathnael Mesenbet, a 13 years old student actively takes part in Buhe. “The lyrics we use in our songs reflect current trends.” He told EBR. Indeed the songs which in addition to signalling the commencing of the New Year also praise individuals hoping to win their favour and receive rewards. The lyrics can indicate the society’s value system as well.
Ethiopia’s unique hand-woven traditional attire has also seen its share of change over the years. Most people adorn the traditional clothe during holiday celebrations. But over the years, the design has seen some major changes with attempts to make them suitable for every day purposes and keep them clean for longer days.
Another New Year tradition evolving with the times is hand-made paintings by children given to people as holiday gifts. The paintings, usually featuring angels, used to be simple pencil sketches. These days, however, it is common to see sketches made with vibrant colours and detail. The rewards people give to the children have also evolved over the years. Bizuayehu Anbesa, 12, paints such pictures and with the money he receives in turn for offering people the gifts, buys some school supplies.
For better or worse, the rapid pace of urbanization currently taking place in cities like Addis Ababa by storm has had a dramatic impact on people’s culture and in particular how they celebrate holidays. “The structural organization of condominium houses in the city does not encourage age-old traditional and communal ways of celebrating holidays as close as people used to have.” Deribe Teshome, a PhD candidate at Addis Ababa University’s (AAU) Sociology Department explains to EBR.
Deribe underscores that while the resilient bond of the family unit is still intact in spite of pressing economic situations, the same cannot be said about communities in Addis Ababa’s condominiums. “Residents barely spend time together celebrating holidays as a community in condominiums.” He added.
As demographic changes become more apparent, especially in condominiums where, according to Deribe, more and more young college-educated, both spouses working families set up residency, parts of traditional ways of celebrating holidays are being abandoned. Mulualem Abera, 29, is a newlywed researcher. He cannot confidently say he did all the rituals of a proper Buhe with his wife Rebeca Yukuna. “Buhe is all about the homemade bread, mulmul dabo, but we were not even aware that it was a holiday and simply spent the day at home so casually.” He said.
The settings of condominiums are not aligned with traditional Ethiopian culinary kitchen setups, making baking traditional breads or brewing home malts difficult. “I used to celebrate holidays with my parents and siblings, where we share tella, mulmul dabo and treat ourselves to some prime raw meat.” Mulualem noted. That’s why he and his wife spent the New Year at his parent’s place.
Open fire kitchens and open air fields to sundry ingredients for traditional Ethiopian foods and drinks have increasingly become difficult to find in Addis Ababa. The life style of people in today’s Addis Ababa is intricately linked with the amount of free time they have and the income they generate. Yeabsira Tesfa (father’s name changed), is a 15 years old teen just coming of age from singing the traditional New Year’s song performed by young girls in Ethiopia. Though a bit sad she is getting old to take part in the ceremony, she is conscious about the need to preserve such cultural values.
Of course, holiday celebrations evolve through time as societies go through different economic, social and demographic changes as evidenced by experiences around the globe. However, even those advanced nations where individual interest becomes the rule of life, trying to maintain their identity and culture that brought them together is getting greater emphasis during holiday celebrations.
For instance, a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2014, reveals that although Americans have made few changes in the way they celebrate holidays like Christmas over the years, many of the important traditions remains the same. Nine out of every 10 Americans surveyed said they celebrate holidays with little change despite the fact that American society go through many changes especially after the Second World War.
Sociology can help to understand some of the reasons why people keep celebrating each year. David Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist, saw holidays as the form of social glue that bring people together. He argued that holiday celebration can be used to reinforce and redefine societal values and maintaining moral order.
Diana Kendall (PhD), professor of sociology at Baylor University, Texas, USA, stress that during holidays people tend to be more sympathetic and less critical of the poor, highlighting their humanity, which reinforce their common bond. In her book entitled ‘Framing Class, Vicarious Living, and Conspicuous Consumption’ she stresses that even wishing strangers ‘Happy Holiday’ or ‘Happy New Year’ extends this bond beyond one’s immediate social group.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for preserving old ways in celebrating the New Year for some families. Abeje Birhanu (PhD), a professor of sociology at AAU, is married and his wife prepares a feast including traditional dishes and drinks and enjoys the day with their three sons. “It’s really hard these days to celebrate the holiday with a buffet of traditional feast, since most of the dishes and drinks require an extended period for preparation.” He said. “It is usually very hard for a single person to prepare these dishes and maids, which are in short supply today, are needed.”
As people’s very way of living changes, due to a range of reasons, old ways of holiday celebrations also change. However, sociologists explain the value of preserving traditions that are bed rocks of societies and their identities. EBR
5th Year • September 2017 • No. 54