Christmas Celebrated by D.C.’s Ethiopian Orthodox Community

Orthodox Christmas Celebration at Ethiopian Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Orthodox Christmas Celebration at Ethiopian Cathedral in Washington, D.C.


While most of D.C. slept early Sunday morning, the Ethiopian Orthodox community gathered at the Debre Meheret Kedus Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral in Northeast Washington to celebrate Orthodox Christmas. This celebration takes place on January 7th according to the Julian calendar, which is used by Ethiopians, Russians, and some Eastern Orthodox communities.

A Meditative Veil Falls Over the Worshipers

Late Saturday into the early hours of Sunday, the cathedral was filled with a meditative atmosphere. Worshipers of all ages, dressed in white to represent the light of Jesus, gathered in the hall for an eight-hour service. Chanting and declarations in the liturgical language of Ge’ez filled the air as the choir chanted, “Truly, truly his light is amazing.”

Children swayed to the beat of drums, but as the hours passed, they began to fall asleep, finding comfort under their parents’ feet. Shortly before midnight, a church leader held up a portrait of Jesus cradled by Mary as a flame was passed from person to person, lighting candles held by hundreds of worshipers. The lights dimmed and the archbishop of Washington D.C. for the Ethiopian Orthodox, dressed in ornate robes, led a procession through the hall, accompanied by chanting and drumming.

The Mass and Feast

A Mass began with the reading of Gospels and Communion. By 2:45 a.m., the feast began, marking the end of a 45-day fast from animal products. Aki Amsalu, a member of the church, shared that he was feeling festive and about to enjoy a second round of traditional dishes prepared by his wife. The meal was shared from one communal tray, bringing together a dozen family and friends.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Community in Washington D.C.

The Ethiopian Orthodox community in the Greater Washington region has grown significantly over the years. The church was established in 1993 with only 30 parishioners in a small room. Since then, the congregation has outgrown multiple spaces and built the current cathedral in the mid-90s, adorned with beautiful paintings.

While Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas may differ from the mainstream Christmas celebrated on December 25th, the heart of the holiday remains the same – the celebration of the birth of Christ. Woyintu Duressa, a member of the community, expressed their joy in being together as a family to celebrate this special occasion.


The Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas celebration at the Debre Meheret Kedus Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral is a vibrant and spiritual event. It brings together the community in Washington D.C. to commemorate the birth of Christ based on their traditions and calendar. This unique celebration highlights the diversity of religious observances in the city.

Read More of this Story at – 2024-01-07 22:49:14

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