Yes They Know it’s Christmas Time, for Sure!



Bole Madhani Alem turns pink when the first beams of morning sun hits the mighty Orthodox cathedral. We are in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and the date is 29/4 2007 – according to the Ethiopian calendar. According to most other calendars it’s January 7th, 2015, and all over Ethiopia Christmas is celebrated.

It’s Christmas day, and no service today, but the square in front of the cathedral is full of people in traditional white scarves and dresses who have come to worship. For some reason my mind wanders 30 years back, to the time when Band Aid was singing “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all”. Judging from the religious activity in front of the closed church this early morning, I think “Yes They Know it’s Christmas Time, for Sure” would be more accurate. Ethiopia was christened in 300 AD, decades before Europe, which means Christmas has been celebrated here for more than 1700 years.

Sisay (24) pulls the white scarf closer around him to keep warm. The young man is on his way home after paying his respect to the Lord.

−This is a big day for all Orthodox Christian Ethiopians he explains. Normally we party on Christmas eve. Christmas day we are spending with our loved ones. My family will gather and then we’ll slaughter a goat or a sheep and prepare a fantastic meal for everyone. According to Orthodox tradition we must fast for 25 days before Christmas and eat only vegetables. So you can imagine how well the meat will taste now that the day finally has come. Sisay hurries on home and leaves us in the middle of the square.

It’s striking how silent and calm everything is. The busy everyday life in Addis seems to be miles away. A priest is sitting in the shade reading his bible. But he puts the holy book down every time someone comes to kiss the wooden cross he is holding. A beggar comes towards us on a pair of worn out crutches. To our surprise he asks us for money – in English.

−After all it’s Jesus’ birthday today, and Jesus always stood up for the poor, he reminds us. The man gets every coin we can find in our pockets. Normally a handful of change is quite sufficient to get peoples consent to have their picture taken. But the man with the crutches is not like other beggars.

−It will take more money if you want to snap me, he says with a smile. We show him our empty pockets, and asks again, but the answer is still no.

−You have to look for other victims, he says as he picks up his crutches.

−And as you are broke you might want to look for beggars who accepts major credit cards.
We will never know who the beggar was, where he learned his English or how he ended up in the street. But still he taught us an important lesson. A lesson we, Bob Geldof and all other people engaged in Africa should bear in mind: Never ever underestimate people!





11 Responses to “Yes They Know it’s Christmas Time, for Sure!”

  1. […] My colleague, Øystein, and I arrived in Addis Ababa yesterday without knowing it was on the Ethiopian Christmas eve. Today we have continued on to Gambela close to the border of South Sudan, but not before we were able to spend the morning at a Coptic church in Addis were people gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. For our full report look up our Verdensglimt […]

  2. Una serie di foto superlative che accompagnano un pezzo di diario veramente bello e interessante.
    Grazie Otto.
    Ciao, Patrizia

    • Ciao Pat dolce dolce…
      ho provato a venire da mi fa vedere dolo poche foto e mon mi lascia fare commenti…
      può darsi che sia colpa del cell.
      ti abbraccio forte…bellissime foto tesora 😉 ♡

  3. Obviously that beggar has a story. It would be interesting to find out what it would take for him to tell it.

    I like the calmness and reverence of celebrating Christmas. It is good to not see the commercialism we have.

  4. Superbe!
    Wonderful photos….
    Tu sei magico ♡

  5. A great title, Otto, and I enjoyed hearing about the history and seeing the composition of the photos with people in the fore and background.. Wow, what a lot of street wisdom that beggar has!
    Orthodox Christmas is my excuse for leaving my Christmas tree up a little longer than the end of December.It really bugs me that retail gives us one day off and it is hard for families to gather together, then you are too exhausted to enjoy it.Silk purse said it well using the phrase “calmness and reverence.”

  6. Thank you for all the information and the fine pictures 🙂
    I had no idea their calendar is so much back in time.
    Now I wonder how they get orders done throughout the world.
    ….to be delivered latest May 5, 2007…
    What will they receive? A smile? Nothing?
    Or do they keep 2 calendars to be able to correspond with the rest of the world?
    Could you please ask someone about that?
    I’m really curious now, and I mean that seriously.

    You and your collegue take good care of yourself over there!

  7. A fine post providing an excellent feel for a different culture.

  8. Very interesting reading, and great images. Now, I’m wanting to know that beggar’s story!

  9. Patricia Ogundare Says:

    The pictures are pristine and the stories excite the imagination. The beggar is no different from others throughout the world using his skills to manipulate others to get his needs met. I appreciate your story telling.

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