Ashenda is a particular religious and cultural celebration which takes place at the end of Ethiopian year (August – September) in most of the Northern Ethiopia regions. Ashenda takes place right after the two-week-long Lent Offering (Tsome Filseta) – which commemorates the death and incarnation of Virgin Mary (Mother of Jesus) according to the Ethiopian Orthodox Religion.
Ashenda is more a celebration of Tigray region and other parts of the Northern Ethiopian regions, thus The Tigrigna word Ashenda which literally means “tall green grass” is not the only name that this celebration is known for even though it is widely known by Ashenda.
Solel, Shadei, Mariya, Ashandiye and Ayniwari are the other names of this cultural festivity and the celebration days are also varies from one northern Ethiopian region to the other though it all takes right after the lent offering is over. In Amhara region of Wag Hemra zone and Raya Kobo it is celebrated on August 16, in Lalibela celebrated on August 22, In Adigrat celebrated on August 15-17 and In Aksum town celebrated on August 23-25.
It is also believed that the cultural festivity was originated from another historical legend besides the death and incarnation of Virgin Mary and that is the death of Jehphttah’s son by her father as offer to the God of Israel in the Old Testament.
As Buhe celebration is for Ethiopian boys and young men, Ashenda is mostly for Ethiopian girls and young women like Abebayosh or Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year).
Here in Addis Ababa many Ethiopian orthodox religion adherents participate in offering the Lent and break the lent by preparing Ethiopian traditional holiday cuisines and attending church services. However, the unique Ashenda celebration is all new for Addis Ababa City and even though it is not as colorful as the Northern part of Ethiopia’s celebration of Ashenda yet, it is so refreshing to see girls and young women wearing traditional costume and singing traditional Ashenda celebration song along with the sound of Kebero (little drum) beat and most of all being one of the eloquent pieces of Ethiopia and representative of their vibrant, beautiful and rich culture in the capital city of Africa – Addis Ababa.
Though the rainy season is not over yet, Addis Ababa streets officially adds another Africa’s very own interesting scene – colorful, mesmerizing and of course entertaining – thus walking along the street at this time of year should not be featureless anymore because of the cold, mud or rain rather it could be exciting but of course it depends on the way you see it.
Sitting at one of many Addis Ababa’s cafés also provides another incentive as the kids visit cafés. They also stop by at different kinds of shops along the street singing traditional Ashenda songs which usually praise Virgin Mary and after they receive any kind of gift the lyrics changes to praising the giver and they throw little pieces of colorful papers at the person who give them money or alike and I think this simple but creative act of gratitude can enliven anyone’s spirit.
I believe Addis Ababa’s miniature Ashenda celebration scene activates the sense of wonder that we are all born with, which unfortunately and usually abandon as we grow up but today I would love to share with the world the ample return for my investment of curiosity.
Starting with the distinctive hairstyle as it is one of the eloquent pieces of Ashenda celebration, Tigray people and Ethiopia. All girls and women groom themselves by braiding their hair in the most enthralling, creative and of course distinctive way. It is not simply braids rather it is work of art with its own unique name and meaning … you can also witness the famous Albaso hairdo as many girls and women wears it especially at the Ashenda festivity.
Another beautiful and colorful detail that just simply embellishes this celebration is the traditional clothing. Tilf – the white cotton dress with the colorful embroidery at the front of the dress from the neck line all the way to the bottom and usually ends with the orthodox cross and Shifen – the colorful long dress are the kinds that worn by the girls and women for the celebration.
The distinctive braid and the impeccably colorful dresses are complemented with different kinds of jewelries like cross necklace, earrings and even jewelers that usually put up on the head. Though it is not an ordinary practice but at this particular celebration the girls wear dark eye shadow and eye liner around their eyes and eyelashes. I must say besides the religious and cultural aspect of the celebration, Ashenda seems like a unique celebration that Ethiopian girls and women creatively and beautifully express themselves.
Ashenda celebration would not be complete without the tall green grass that the celebration is named after. The grass has two main purposes to make the Ashenda celebration complete. Since the grass is estimated to be at round 80-90 cm minimum height the girls creatively make a skirt out of it and wear it around their waist which makes a fascinating scene when it combined with the traditional dance. And of course this same kind of grass is strewn on the ground in welcoming the holiday spirit.
Ashenda traditional song which the girls sings in their own language of Tigrigna, the lyrics usually contains words that praise St. Mary and something about the coming Ethiopian New Year ( September 11) with the distinctively enchanting drum beat that just invites everyone to be part of this melodious celebration.
Ashenda is a colorful celebration with many distinctive and expressive details to make it all complete but to simply state how the celebration materializes in most of the Tigray Northern Ethiopian regions – it is almost a week long celebration that starts from the eve of the actual celebration day which is St. Mary’s day for Ethiopian Orthodox Religion adherent.
Early in the morning people go to Kidane Miheret (St. Mary) church to attend the morning service and after that the girls gather and go to houses, restaurants and shops singing and receiving gifts. Afterwards the parade forms as they all go to gather at the central point of the village and celebrate it together with the community.
Saying Good Bye to the Old Year with gratitude and grace!