Christmas, called Lidet, is not the primary religious and secular festival that it has become in Western countries. Falling on 7 January, it is celebrated after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent) , by a church service and spectacular procession that goes on throughout the night, with people moving from one church to another. Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey, called genna, on this day, and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.
Christmas in Lalibela, the holiest town in Ethiopia, thousands of People is gathering to attend the festivals. At the eve of Christmas at night pilgrims jammed the church shoulder to shoulder and thronged the surrounding hills. To begin the Mass, priests chanted and rattled sistras, palm-size instruments from Old Testament times, and the celebration continued through the night.
At sunrise, the church emptied. More than 100 priests climbed the rocky steps to the rim of the pit overlooking the church and formed a line that snaked to the very edge of the drop. They wore white turbans, carried golden scarves and had red sashes stitched into the hems of their white robes. Several deacons began beating large drums, and the priests began to sway in unison, rattling their sistras, then crouching in a wavy line to the beat and rising again—King David's dance, the last of the Christmas ceremonies.
In the courtyard below, two dozen priests formed a tight circle with two drummers in the center and began chanting a hymn to the priests above, who responded in kind. According to the priest "The courtyard priests represent the world's people, and the priests high above represent the angels," . "Their singing is a symbol of the unity between heaven and earth." On they went for two hours, their movements and voices swelling in intensity. Many of those high above slipped into ecstatic trances, closing their eyes as they swayed.