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Christmas in Lalibela

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Hanna Bekele
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The Historic route of Ethiopia

Christmas in Lalibela

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Lalibela with its its 11 monolithic churches—carved out of the red volcanic stone in the 12th century, and now a World Heritage Site—are thronged by pilgrims every Christmas. Because of differences between Western and Ethiopian calendars and traditions, Ethiopians celebrate that holiday on what Westerners know as January 7.

This is one of the greatest and most colorful festival on the Ethiopian calendar. At St. Lalibela, it is celebrated with greater devotion, chanting, dancing, and singing around the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela which were built more than 800 years ago. The ancient city of St. Lalibela will be filled with tens of thousands of pilgrims who come from all directions of Ethiopia and from all walks of life. Most of the pilgrims reach at St. Lalibela from far off hamlets and inaccessible valleys, walking on their bare foot for days, weeks, and even for months to share the blessing on Christmas day. Even if Ethiopian Christmas is on January 7, there will be different ceremonies to be held around the rock-hewn churches starting the night of 4th January. This is an ancient Christian tradition which has remained unchanged and witnessing this event, you feel like you are transported centuries and centuries back in time. You can’t help but feel that a scene the same to these one has been enacted here in the same manner centuries over centuries.

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