Lidet – Ethiopian Christmas
Christmas in Lalibela is an extraordinary experience as the town’s population more than doubles in size in the weeks preceding Lidet. In advance of the three-day celebration, tens of thousands pilgrims gather, camping in the hills around the town and its famous rock-hewn churches. The ceremonies themselves are solemn and mesmerising. Here, Christmas is celebrated as it has been for hundreds of years and you are struck by the devotion of the faithful.
The religious celebration of Lidet (also known as Gena in parts of Ethiopia) takes place over three days, culminating in Christmas Day, which is celebrated on 7 January in Ethiopia. During this time, Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches and the surrounding hills throng with pilgrims. Some are from nearby communities, and others have walked for weeks to get here. As you walk through the town, you feel the anticipation and sense something special is imminent. Traders set up market stalls, residents open their homes, welcoming any pilgrims who want to come in and eat with them, and local young people wash the feet of the tired pilgrims.
On Christmas Eve you join the white-clad crowds in the church of Bete Emanuel, where the rhythmic chanting and signing continue in the warm candlelight through the night. Your guide gives you all the information you need to be respectful and understand what’s happening around you. He was a deacon in the church himself, and has taken part in these ceremonies since childhood.
In the very early hours on the morning of Christmas Day, you witness the solemn mass in Bete Maryam. After sunrise you file out of the church with the crowds of pilgrims and the priests and deacons, who process to stand on the edge of the cliffs that encircle the church.
They start up a steady swaying beat with their hand-held sistrums, chanting in response to other clergy outside the church below. The crowds sing and ululate during the three-hour ritual, a timeless spectacle which must have changed little in hundreds of years. The lead priest then pronounces the start of the feasting to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and people return home to break their fasts and spend time with their families.
Along with your guide’s family, you enjoy the tasty doro wet, a spicy chicken stew prepared in advance of the big day. In the afternoon you enjoy a calm joyful feast with both locals and pilgrims.
Lidet in Lalibela and Trekking the Simien Mountains
This is a sample tour to give you an idea of cost and how you could experience the Lidet celebrations, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, rural Ethiopian culture, and the dramatic scenery of the Simien Mountains in just 9 days. We can tailor it in any number of ways.
- 2 nights at Limalimo Lodge in the Simien Mountains
- 2 full days trekking in the Simien Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site 1 night camping
- 1 day touring Gonder’s fortress city Fasl Ginb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 3 days celebrating Lidet in Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches and visiting Yemrehanne Kristos and the Asheton Maryam Monastery in the surrounding hills
- 2 days exploring Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s historic capital
Starting from $2,675 per person* on double occupancy basis (excluding all flights)
Single supplement: $450
*Minimum group size 4
- All accommodation on B&B basis
- All airport and road transfers
- Entry fees and a local tour guides at all the historic sites and national parks
- An expert guide to accompany you throughout your tour
A few suggestions for tailoring your tour
- For those not keen on mountain trekking, spend 2 days (3 nights) visiting the remote monasteries in the Gheralta Mountains in Tigray and 1 day (1 night) in Axum
When to go to Lalibela for Lidet
The religious celebration of Lidet takes place over three days, culminating in Christmas Day, which is celebrated on 7 January in Ethiopia. We suggest you arrive in Lalibela on the 4th or 5th of January to enjoy the build up.
Our top tip for Lidet
“Don’t miss going up to Asheten Mariam or driving out to Yimrehane Kirstos and making the final stretch of the journey to Lalibela on foot with the pilgrims. And when you arrive back in Lalibela, please do try the foot washing – you’re in the African Jerusalem after all.”
For some background and insight into Christianity in Ethiopia try The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia by John Binns.
Flights to Ethiopia
What happens in an emergency?
Communicating in Ethiopia
Ethiopian time and dates
The weather and what to pack
Mobile phone coverage and Internet access in Ethiopia
Advice from locals
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