By Addis Getachew and Tesfa Mogessie
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
While widespread across the world, Valentine’s Day is not a day widely celebrated in Ethiopia although signs of increased participation are taking hold in capital Addis Ababa.
Young people dressed in red are the most obvious sign that interest in this celebration of love thought to have its origins in ancient Rome is growing.
The presence of international organizations in the capital is another reason Valentine’s Day is increasing in popularity, with upmarket downtown Addis Ababa showing the most indications with huge floral tributes in hotels and restaurants.
However, there are those who reject the foreign tradition in a country where Orthodox Christianity is the largest religion, followed by Islam.
“We should not succumb to everything we see being celebrated in other affluent countries,” Demissie Bekele, 58, told Anadolu Agency, highlighting Ethiopia’s own courtship customs, such as the practice of a boy throwing a lemon towards to object of his affections in the hope she picks it up and signals her interest in him.
“Though fast fading and in spite of the fact that the tradition prevailed in rural areas, it is a sweet culture worthy of replication by urbanites all the same,” he said.
Bethlehem Wude disagreed and defended celebrations of love no matter their origin. “In fact, there may be some cultures and influences from the outside that we should protect against,” she said. “But Valentine’s Day is not one of those.”
Despite the rise in the number of people marking Valentine’s Day, florists say it has not seen a noticeable increase in their receipts.
“The business has not climbed as most would have expected,” one downtown flower vendor said. “We normally sell small bouquets and wreaths of all kinds to customers but what we have been selling for people yesterday and today is cut flowers apiece and it does not bring many sales.
“But in terms of the number of people that keep coming to us to buy flowers it shows a dramatic increase.”
Valentine’s Day has also seen more practical measures around courtship adopted.
AHF Ethiopia, a non-governmental organization that offers HIV services to those living below the poverty line, has been distributing condoms since Saturday morning.
“The condoms are being distributed among the youth with a view to preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases during the Valentine’s Day,” an official who asked not to be named said.