Wednesday, September 12, 2007
A new millennium in Ethiopia
It is a strange experience to go back in time to relive a historic event, but here in Addis Ababa I’ve done just that.

It’s been seven years and nine months after most of us saw in the new millennium, but in Ethiopia it has just begun. With a number of official events, including a performance by the Black Eyed Peas, people have been partying like it really was 1999. This shift in time is because Ethiopia uses the Julian calendar that was given up by the rest of the world centuries ago.

I am in Ethiopia filming for the CNN program Revealed, profiling the great long distance and marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie, and by coincidence here at this momentous occasion. Haile is a wonderful man and Ethiopian hero. Not wanting us to be left out he invited us to his house with his family to enjoy a traditional New Year’s Eve. There was dancing and singing around a bonfire. We feasted on roasted goat, which we had only admired in his garden just two days before.

The last time I celebrated the millennium was with CNN filming from a cliff top in the Chatham Island in New Zealand. The first inhabited place to see the first dawn of the New Millennium. One thing I haven’t heard about this time has been the Y2K bug. The Ethiopians have had seven years to find out if computers and financial markets aren’t sent into turmoil at the stroke of midnight.

Ethiopia has made a big deal of this strange shift in time, with banners and festive lights throughout the capital. Security has been a big issue with armed security forces patrolling the city and some events cancelled. The producer, Rosie Tomkins, and I were stopped twice and searched at armed check-points driving on our way to an open air concert later in the evening. There was lots of traditional music and dance, and the audience were in a great party mood dancing into the very early hours.

It has been a very memorable experience.

Happy New Millennium from Addis Ababa.

-- From Neil Bennett, CNN International Photographer, in Addis Ababa.
I am curious why Ethiopia still uses the Julian calendar? It was a European timeline. Does it have something to do with local orthodox churches which settled in Ethiopia in the past?
Just a little quote that partly answers Sharon's question about the Julian calendar:

"Ethiopia uses a variety of the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar which is used in the west and has become the standard for international dates. Time-wise, Ethiopia uses the "equatorial" or "12-hour" method to calculate times.

The Etiopian calendar is a variation of the system introduced by the Roman emperor Julius Ceasar in 45 BC. The Julian calendar was used in Europe until Pope Gregory ordered a reform in 1582. This resulted in a new calendar system, known as the Gregorian calendar, which we still use today.

The use of this calendar is related to Ethiopia's main religions, the Coptic Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. In this calendar, the year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each, plus a thirteenth month of 5 days. During leap years, this last month gets one extra day.

Other than the Islamic calendar, the dates of the Ethiopian calendar do not shift annually in respect to the Gregorian calendar. The beginning of every Ethiopian month has a fixed equivalent in the Gregorian calendar." (from

To the blog author from South Africa.

Thank you for the thorough explanation of the different calendar years in Africa. I appreciated it.

So, Neil, how was New Years?

Sharon D.
Although it is true that the Ethiopian Calendar is synchronized to the Julian calendar, that does not account for the difference in the year. The Julian calendar is currently only 14 days behind the Gregorian Calendar.

The reason why the Ethiopian Calendar is 8 years behind is they have based their date of the birth of Christ on the calculations of Annianus of Alexandria, rather than the calculations of Dionysius Exiguus, which the Gregorian calendar is based on.
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