Christmas in Ethiopia

Posted on December 25, 2012 by Global Mission Support

The Rev. Dr. Rosanne Swanson, an ELCA missionary serving in Ethiopia, is helping establish a program in pastoral care at the Mekane Yesus Seminary in Addis Ababa. To support Rosanne, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to

In Addis Ababa, a city of contrasts, expensive, one-family villas are near much humbler homes.

In Addis Ababa, a city of contrasts, expensive, one-family villas are near much humbler homes.

Dear friends in Christ,

A hymn we sang this morning in church reminds me that the birth of Jesus is not about snow, trees, tinsel or even presents.  Rather, we celebrate the mystery that God comes to us wrapped in flesh, born in humble surroundings to be the Savior of the world. Indeed, the outward trappings of Christmas are noticeably absent here in Addis Ababa. There is, of course, no snow. The weather is cool, but still the sun is warm. The only place where you will find a Christmas tree or such decorations is at the large hotels. In class last week, one of my students asked about the symbolism of the Christmas tree. When we talked about the lights on the tree symbolizing the light coming into the darkness of the world, he said, “But we have 13 months of sun. Why should we have a Christmas tree to remind us of light?” It was hard to argue with that logic!

You may wonder why he said “13 months.” In the Ethiopian calendar, which is lunar based, there is a short five-day “month” before the new year begins. The Ethiopian new year is celebrated on Sept. 11. According to the Ethiopian calendar, the year is now 2005. When my students tell me dates (or time), I have to ask whether we are talking about “western” time or Ethiopian time.

The semester is rapidly coming to an end.  There is only one more week of classes.  Students will be returning to their homes to celebrate Ethiopian Christmas (Jan. 7) with their families and communities.  Students come from as close as the city of Addis Ababa and as far away as 800 km from the southwest corner of Ethiopia. I will be teaching the second year MA students in the j-term, a course in advanced homiletics. Immediately following the j-term course and before our second semester begins, the Mekane Yesus church will be meeting on campus in church-wide assembly. Please pray for this meeting that the church may find unity in the midst of its diversity and that the new leaders to be elected will have a servant’s heart.

When not teaching or studying Amharic, I have ventured out to explore the city. Addis Ababa is a city of contrasts. Walking down the street, one can see very well dressed men and women passing by beggars who are barely clad at all. Just down the street from the Anglican church where I worshiped this morning is a villa, which is a one-family dwelling.  Directly across the street and down the embankment is a village where the houses may be made of mud and bricks and the roofs are corrugated metal.

I am reminded that Jesus came to be the Savior of the world for all — those who dwell in villas, those who live in metal houses and those who have no roof at all over their head.  For such a wondrous mystery, I give thanks.

I pray that your celebration of the coming of Bethlehem’s Child will gladden your hearts with joy and wonder at the mystery of Love come down for us all.

In the love of Christ,