Habesha Time

22 Dec

In the rest of the world it is December 22, 2012, or maybe it isn’t if the Mayan rumors are true. But how is this blog post possible if everyone else perished in a fiery end of Armageddon proportions?  Answer: the magical Ethiopian Calendar.

For me, today is December 11, 2005. Yes, I am writing to you both from the future (time differences!) and from the past (sorta). Basically I have about 7 more years before the Mayan doom- so tell me, what happened that fateful day?

In all seriousness, the Ethiopian time system is one of the most interesting I’ve come across. It is a derivative of the Julian calendar, whereas the ferenji or “foreign aka American” calendar is the Gregorian system. The difference of about 7 or 8 years comes about due to a difference in calculation, by the Coptic Church, of when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. Why couldn’t they keep proper records back then?

In addition to the year differences, there are 13 months in the Ethiopian Calendar. This is convenient for tourism as Ethiopia can truthfully claim 13 months of sunshine. There are 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of 5 or 6 days called Pagume [Pa-gu-may] which is stuck in there to make the other 12 work on the yearly cycle (the whole earth going around the sun thing). What that means is that the Ethiopian New Year falls on September 11th, (Sept. 12th in a leap year), just after rainy season.

If that weren’t complicated enough, the time is different here too. Although now that I’m used to it, it makes so much more sense. 6am or sunrise is the start of the day (0:00), noon (6:00), 6pm (12:00) and the night time starts over. So basically from 0-12 hours is from sunrise to sunset and the night is another 12 hours. Facepalm. What is this weird 4am in the morning thing Americans got going on? Nonsensical. Of course, this system works well for a country where sunrise and sunset are pretty much consistent throughout the year since we are close to the equator.

What this ultimately means is that every time I schedule a meeting we have to clarify bahabesha or bafereji sa-at? Meaning Ethiopian or foreign calendar/time? If that confusion isn’t a good excuse for missing deadline, I don’t know what is. So I keep my watch on Ethiopian time, and my cell phone on foreign time, just in case I need to switch back and forth. A lot of international NGOs and organizations work on the foreign clock system, while the local orgs clearly use the local time. If someone brought in the 24:00 European/military system right now I would explode.

Moral of the story is, send me your World Series winners  and lottery numbers from 2006-2012, I think I could make some good bets.

3 Responses to “Habesha Time”

  1. Tiblets Negussie Richardson February 17, 2016 at 7:26 am #

    The Ethiopian time makes the perfect sense to me as well. Simple, easy for anyone whether you are Habesha or Ferengi, I would say. Some might say,, it’s easy for you because you’re from there however, I would still argue that it makes sense to start the day at sunrise and end the day at sunset, the night following the same logic, as the writer clearly pointed out.


  1. 13 Months of Sunshine | Wanderings and Wonderings - September 9, 2013

    […] Enkutatash! Happy Ethiopian New Year! If you harken back to my post on the craziness of the Ethiopian time keeping system and calendar, you will remember that the New Year starts mid September (September 12 to be exact, this year), […]

  2. Elder Tucker Gooch - February 11, 2017

    […] I looked up this calendar and this blog has a great American description of how the time works in Ethiopia: https://africanwandering.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/habesha-time/ […]

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