Ashenda or Shadey (Tigrigna: ኣሸንዳ, Agew language: ሻደይ) is a festival celebrated in August in the Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia, and in neighboring Eritrea. The name of the festival “Ashenda” came from the name of a tall green grass, estimated at around 80–90 cm minimum height, that the girls make in to a skirt and ware it around their waist as a decoration. In the tradition of this religious festival, blades of grass are strewn on the floors of homes and shops as a kind of welcome mat. Ashenda marks the end of a two-week-long fast known as Filseta (Ge’ez: ጾመ-ፍልሰታ) when adherents of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church/ Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church gather to honor the Virgin Mary, but the holiday has grown way beyond that now.

Although the way & duration of Ashenda celebration slightly differs among rural  and urban and/or from one local district to the other, the main theme, the starting date and the overall festivity is more or less the same. In rural areas, its celebrated for almost a month running from the mid-August to mid-September every year. In urban areas (could be mostly due to a different business-based environment and mixed culture effects), it’s commonly celebrated for three days. This type of celebrating the day is a young revision of the old-month-long celebration.

From the fact that all girls beautify themselves very carefully, there is a local old saying in Tigrigna “ቆልዓ ኣሸንዳ ሪኢኻ ኣይትተሓፀ” literally meaning “don’t propose to an Ashenda girl” or something to that effect. The point being that all the women here are beautiful during Ashenda.  Girls and women carefully beautify themselves,  dress themselves in cultural styles accustomed to that time, get in groups and dance. After a year long busy task, this time of the holiday is all about the women and having fun. Parents know this is their time and they let them free of any household work. The girls get together into and beautify themselves with new dresses, fancy hairdos, and jewelry.  Then they take to the streets with a hand drum for three crazy days looking for men.  As I said earlier, the celebration goes on for a month in rural dwellings. They form a big group around the men and dance and sing in order to solicit donations from the guy.  It’s kind of like Halloween Trick-or-Treating, but they won’t let you leave without paying.  It’s fine as long as you are not in a hurry and have lots of small bills to give out.

Most holidays are usually based on significant religious dates and are celebrated by attending church and eating big elaborate meals at home.  These meals are painstakingly prepared by the women of the household for a day or two prior to the holiday.  The food is awesome and is usually accompanied by coffee ceremonies (prepared by the women) and other drinks like Siwa or Mes (local home-brews also prepared by the women of course).  The women serve guests, usually men, as well as their own families.

Although ‘Ashenda’ is the very common name given to the celebration, there are also other local names. For instance,

  • In Enderta, historically it is known as Ashenda (Tigrigna: ኣሸንዳ), and is colorfully celebrated on August 16–21.
  • In Wag Hemra zone it is called Shaday (ሻደይ), and in Raya Kobo it’s known as Solel (ሶለል). It is celebrated on August 16
  • In Adigrat town it is called Mariya (ማርያ). It is celebrated August 15–17
  • In Aksum town & Tembien area it is called Ayniwari (ዓይኒዋሪ). It is celebrated August 23–25
  • In Western Tigrai it is called Ashenda (Tigrigna: ኣሸንዳ) and is celebrated for almost a month that runs from mid August to mid September.

This cultural festivity was originated from two historical legends that occurred in different periods. These were;

  • The sacrification of Jehphttah’s (ንጉስ ዮፍታሔ) daughter by her own father as cited in the Book of Judges, the Old Testament
  • The ascension of Virgin Mary (mother of Jesus);

The festival of Ashenda has cultural, religious and economic importance, and encourages industriousness. Once traditionally a girls’ festival, it has since gained widespread recognition and popularity in the northern part of the country and among communities of the Ethiopian diaspora.

My Choice Ethiopia Tour organizes tailored and custom made tours, shared vehicle transport, booking and related services to the most popular venues of the celebration. Contact us at marketing@mychoiceethiopiatour.com or just call us +251 941 616561.

Written by 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *