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Traditionally, people in Ethiopia play gena - a rugby/field hockey like game - on Christmas day.

Where does this tradition come from?

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What are the origins of the Ethiopian Christmas day game of Gena?

It is Ethiopian tradition that the country was converted to Christianity during the time of the Apostles. We see in Acts 8: 26-40 that the Apostle Philip baptized a prominent Ethiopian eunuch, who in turn was believed to have evangelized his home country of Ethiopia.

We believe that Ethiopia turned to Christianity during the time of the Apostles, certainly we can prove it came at the start of the 4th century when the cross of Christ appeared in Axum . This means that Ethiopia could have celebrated Christmas from the beginning, meaning that it was an age old custom.

It is believed that Ethiopia turned to Christianity during the time of Emperor Ezana because we see coins of Ezana with the moon and sun where he used to worship the gods that came from Arabia, but we also saw coins of Ezana with the cross, meaning that he converted Ethiopia to Christianity. - Professor Richard Pankhurst

How is Christmas celebrated in Ethiopia?

The celebration of Ethiopian Christmas is marked by various activities such as horse racing and authentic folk dancing. At Lalibela, Genna is celebrated in very attractive ways due to the birth date of King Lalibela being on a similar day. In the rural areas a popular game which looks like European Hockey but is typically Ethiopian is conducted between two youth teams. The game is named after the festival and is called "Yegena Chewata". - Genna or Ethiopian Christmas

And now for the origins of the game.

The game, which looks a little bit similar to hockey, has been played for centuries, according to ancient manuscripts. The exact time of its origin is, however, not known.

Ye-gena chewata is played by using a crude hockey stick, "Gena", and some kind of a small wooden ball, "enkura". Men and young boys participate in the game. But it is only rarely that the rivalry can be fierce.

In relation to the origin of the game, there are different legends which have been related from one generation to another. Solomon Getachew, vice president of Cultural Sports and Festival bureau, says that when Jesus Christ was born, the news was heard all over the world and when the shepherds heard it they started jumping with joy and throwing things around and that's how the game was started.

The other myth which seems horrific is that when the "Sebasegels", the three Melchior King of Arabia, Caspar the King of Tarsus and Balthazar King of Ethiopia, led by the star, found out that Jesus was born, on their journey back from Bethelhem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, they found a man who denied the birth of the Savior. Disappointed by his denial, they beheaded the man and played with his head. - Ethiopia Cultural Sports: Reviving Ye Gena Chewata

Ethiopian Christmas

Ethiopians playing their Traditional Christmas game of Gena.

Here is a nice YouTube video in English on the subject: Genna | Ancient Ethiopian Sport on Trans World Sport (YouTube).

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