By Girma Migirsa
Ethiopia is endowed with various natural and historical resources, grand festivals; historic tourism destinations have been inscribed as world heritage sites.
Among the most conspicuous festivals in Ethiopia is Genna (Amharic word) or Christmas, which is celebrated on the 7th of January or Tahisas 29 according to the Julian calendar. Though Christmas has some outdoor features, mostly it is one of the indoor holidays celebrated in Ethiopia.
The celebration of Genna is marked by various activities such as horse racing and authentic folk dancing. Ye Genna Chewata resembles some kind of traditional play during the festival. Around the time of Genna, the men and boys play a game that is also called Genna. It is somewhat like hockey, played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball.
But, the holiday is celebrated in a very unique way in Lalibela, a holy town and home of the most famous rock hewn churches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The small town is mostly famous for its architectural marvels, the ancient rock hewn churches made from a single block of rocks.
This year, Ethiopians celebrate Genna with mixed feelings, particularly at the historic Lalibela town. It is to be recalled that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has launched the ‘Great Ethiopian Home Coming Challenge’ which is aimed at bringing one million diaspora community and friends of Ethiopia home ahead of the upcoming Christmas holiday. This historic homecoming event is unique for Ethiopians and Ethiopian Diaspora communities to celebrate the Genna with their brothers and sisters at their homeland.
Furthermore, they are coming their homeland at this critical time, it will also create opportunities for diaspora communities to understand the level of infrastructure damages and sufferings of the people by the heinous acts of the terrorist TPLF, showing their solidarity and support to rehabilitate the people in this regard, whose properties were vandalized, damaged, looted, and rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure facilities again.
This trip to home by diaspora communities for this holiday is not an ordinary coming home. The challenge takes place amidst the struggle that is being conducted by heroic Ethiopians inside and abroad fight against the atrocious crimes of terrorist TPLF and external pressure.
This year Genna celebration is also unique and unforgettable among Ethiopians as the terrorist TPLF group has committed horrendous human rights abuse and violations, mass killing and massacre in the Amhara and Afar regions which could be qualified as genocide given the atrocities committed on civilians following the government’s declaration of Unilateral Ceasefire last June.
Not only this, the terrorist group also invaded the historic Lalibela town for four months. They also ransacked and destroyed the airport in the ancient town, which has resumed regular flights.
Lalibela is a place of pilgrimage, devotion and peace: it should not be a place for instigating violence and conflict. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) ignored the serious threat posed by the terrorist group to the world heritage sites such as the churches of Lalibela and other historic sites.
Now, preparation have been finalized in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, the Amhara State Administration, Monastery of Lalibela Rock Hewn Churches and local administrative bodies to mark the festival in a colorful manner in Lalibela. The celebration of Genna festival at the historical town of Lalibela is aimed at stimulating the tourism industry of the country that has been highly affected by the Coronavirus pandemic and the war provoked by the terrorist TPLF.
The tourism sector could gradually improve mainly by the aggressive campaign of the diaspora—for they will tell the world that Ethiopia is not as it is painted by the coordinated disinformation and false campaigns of the international media outlets, fanning a narration that Ethiopia is unsafe destination of tourists. Thanks to the influx of home coming diaspora, which show their ownership of the affairs of the country, and disprove the year-long false narratives?
Although Genna is supposed to be a celebration of peace and good will among its people, Ethiopians here and abroad recall the crimes committed by the terrorist TPLF, strengthening their unison to overcome the challenges facing the country.
The upcoming Genna holiday needs to be a celebration that would focus on supporting and rehabilitating the displaced people; rebuilding the destroyed and looted individual and public properties by the terrorist TPLF.
At the ancient site, there are 11 monolithic cave churches of the 13th-century ‘New Jerusalem’ are located in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia near a traditional village with circular-shaped dwellings. Lalibela rock-hewn churches are a holy sites for millions of Orthodox Christians and was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1978.