WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Ethiopian-Americans celebrate a new year in September

By Hannah GebresilassieCONNECT

CHICAGO — Ethiopians around the globe celebrated a new year, also known as Enkutatash, on Sept. 11.

While it’s 2017 in most of the world, it’s 2010 in Ethiopia. That’s because the country uses an ancient calendar, which is about seven years behind the calendar more commonly used worldwide.

“The beauty of it is we get to share it with the world,” said Sela Gebremeskal, a first generation Ethiopian-American.

Hundreds celebrated the new year at the annual Ethiopia Fest in the ”Windy City,” hosted by the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago.

“It’s so cool to see as a young adult, we are really bringing our traditions,” said Samira Abderahman, vice president of the ECAC Auxiliary Board. “We’re really proud of what we’ve done and we’re working to preserve it. To see even though our parents did migrate over here, to show that no, this is important to us.”

Ethiopia has over 80 ethnic groups, and Samira said the festival tries to bring many of them together.

“The thing about the new year is that it really just marks the change of the year,” Samira said. “And no matter what tribal, religious association, everybody comes out to celebrate that.”

One performer flew all the way from Los Angeles to be a part of the celebration.

“Now we’re seeing a whole different community come up and live beautifully and be able to celebrate our culture,” said Robel Ketema, an artist based out of California. “It’s an honor to be a part of it, and I’m really happy.”

Ketema grew up in the U.S. and ties Ethiopian melodies into his music.

“I can’t get away from it, because you know this is the music we grew up listening to, so I might as well embrace it and I think I should be,” he said.

Yellow flowers, spread throughout the festival, represent the new year. The event included lots of music, food, dancing and coffee. Ethiopia is known to be the birthplace of coffee, one reason why it’s become a huge part of the celebration.

While many Ethiopians born in the U.S. have never been back home, the heritage is still a huge part of their identity.

“I have yet to visit Ethiopia, but I think it’s very important to stay true to your roots and I think it’s very important to show the next generation that Ethiopia has a rich culture,” Gebremeskal said.

During the ’70’s through the ’90’s, a huge wave of Ethiopian refugees came to the U.S., many of them fighting to give future generations a better life. It’s one reason why holding onto Ethiopian culture is so special to first-generation Ethiopian-Americans.