Ethiopia — Seven years behind

A man with a genetic disorder causing him to time travel uncontrollably, a cyborg assassin that arrives from the future, a young girl who discovers the ability to control time — Now to put a name to these plots, I am talking about The Time Traveler’s Wife, Terminator, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, an anime film.

With today’s society constantly exploring science fiction books, movies and shows, what if time travel becomes a reality?

If you never thought that you could get any younger than you are right now, you thought wrong! Book a flight to Ethiopia, and you will realise that upon arrival, you instantly become younger —  approximately seven years younger actually.

You may be thinking, “How is that possible?” Well, unlike the rest of the world, Ethiopia lives day by day according to the Ethiopian calendar, instead of the Gregorian calendar. Read on to find out more!


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History of the Gregorian Calendar

The Roman calendar was originally invented by Romulus, the first King of Rome. The calendar started in March and consisted of 10 months — 6 months of 30 days and 4 months of 31 days. The season of Winter was not assigned to any month, thus the calendar year only lasted 304 days, with 61 days that were not accounted for in the winter. The months were divided by three markers that were called Kalends, Nones and Ides. Kalends signified the start of the new moon cycle, Nones were known to be the days of the half moon, and Ides were the days of the full moon.


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The Roman calendar, however, did not work for long since it was not aligned with the seasons. King Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome, then decided to reform the calendar by adding the months of January and February to the original 10 months. This increased the year’s length to 355 days instead of 304 days. But, even after adding January and February, the calendar was still inaccurate. Many other attempts were subsequently made to align the calendar with the seasons but they all resulted in failure. An extra month was even added to the calendar in some years to make up for the lack of days. These extra months were known as intercalary months.

By the time the Roman Empire was under Julius Caesar when he became the High Priest of the College of Pontiffs (A body of the ancient Roman state whose members were the highest-ranking priests of the state religion), the calendar was already out of sync by about three months. Caesar eradicated the use of intercalary months, and, with the help of Sosigenes, a Greek astronomer from Alexandria, a new calendar was started on January 1. This then became known as the “Julian Calendar”. Sosigenes discovered that the actual length of a year was 365 days and six hours instead of 355 days. He felt that the best solution was to just add a day to February, the shortest of the Roman months, every fourth year. This balanced out the days, and was how the leap year was invented.

But, yet again, an error surfaced. It was discovered that the solar year was actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds specifically, rather than 365 days and six hours. This seemingly insignificant difference could actually make up a single day over 130 years.

V0001150 Christopher Clavius. Line engraving by E. de Boulonois.

Line engraving of Christopher Clavius — Photo credits:

By the 1500s, this issue led to a 10 day gap between the calendar and the actual solar year. To salvage the issue, Pope Gregory XIII asked Christopher Clavius, a German Jesuit astronomer, to help with solving the problem. He discovered that the error amounted to 3 days over a period of 400 years, and came up with a solution.

To solve the issue, Clavius suggested that moving forward, only years that could be divided by 400 will be counted as leap years. This would eliminate three leap years every three centuries. This solution was put into use starting with the Papal States (Territories in the Italian Peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of the Pope) in 1582. The calendar was then named the “Gregorian calendar” after the Pope. This is also the most widely used calendar today.

So how is the Ethiopian calendar different?

The calendar itself comprises 13 months, where the first 12 months consist of 30 days each. The 13th month on the other hand has 5 days in a typical year, and 6 days during a leap year. This month is known as “Pagumen”, which has a Greek word meaning of added things or days.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. Instead of 1st January being the start of a new year, Ethiopians celebrate their new years on the 11th of September!


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You are probably wondering how visiting Ethiopia would be like, considering the difference in calendar days. Well, there is more to it — Ethiopia works by a different clock system too.

They use a 12-hour clock, but with a twist. Ethiopians do not usually go by the ante meridiem (AM) and post meridiem (PM) timing system. Ethiopian days start at 6AM (12 — in their time) and end at 6PM (Midnight in their time). For clearer understanding, their one o’clock is our seven o’clock, their three o’clock our nine o’clock and so forth.

Their days start at dawn and end at dusk, unlike the rest of the world, where the days begin at midnight.

This is due to the fact that Ethiopia is close to the Equator, thus the sun rises at about 6 AM and sets at about 6 PM. This gives them 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of night all year round, making up the 24 hour time frame.

But… Why is the Ethiopian calendar different?

With the majority of Ethiopians being Christians, the Ethiopic calendar is greatly influenced by the rules and calculations of the Coptic church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido church.

The chronology of the Ethiopian church abides by the Era of Incarnation that dates from Jesus’ birth. In contrast to the Gregorian calendar which is built upon the calculation of the year itself that Jesus was born, the Ethiopian calendar follows a system based on the calculation of the annunciation of Jesus’ coming birth— referring to the conception of Jesus Christ, rather than the birth itself.

eth cal manuscript

An Ethiopian manuscript on the mathematical calculations of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church — Photo Credits:

The varying calculations in confirming the date of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ is thus the main reason for the seven year difference between the Gregorian and Ethiopian calendars.

The Ethiopian Church also believes that Jesus was born 5500 years after the creation of the world. According to the teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Jesus Christ is believed to have been born on January 7, which is why Ethiopia celebrates Christmas on that date rather than the 25th of December that we all know and love!

Quick Tip for a Traveller

In an article by Public Radio International, reporter Dalia Mortada wrote about Mr Kemal Oznoyan, a businessman on his experience in doing business in Ethiopia, who cited that:

“Once, for example, he (Oznoyan) and his colleagues set up a meeting for 6 o’clock.

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Oznoyan thought, “6 p.m., no problem.” But a bit after noon he got a call from the guy he was meeting. “He calls, ‘Where are you? I’m waiting in the downstairs.’” Oznayan says. “[I ask him] ‘Why?’”

It turns out, Oznayan’s colleague meant 6:00 in Ethiopian time, which is noon by Oznoyan’s clock.”

Which is why, when travelling to Ethiopia, this is something to take note of. Do not forget to ask “Orop time or Habbishat time?”, also something you will hear frequently amongst people. It will definitely come in handy when communicating with drivers or fixing an appointment with a friend.

“Orop” refers to the timing that the rest of the world lives according to. “Habbishat” is casually referred to as the Ethiopian timing. Using these terms will help you clarify what time something is occurring, making life there much less confusing for you.

So, when you do plan on travelling to Ethiopia, keep this in mind and enjoy the time travel. It will definitely be an experience like no other!