Monday, December 2, 2013


New Years Day (January 1):  Like most places, New Year’s celebrations are a big deal. Schools and most businesses are closed on this day.  A lot of people like to bring in the new year with large parties that last until the sun rises. 

Birthday of Mohammed (varies, January-February): Also called Mawlid al-Nabi. This holiday is fairly a big deal for most Djiboutians.  In many towns, people will gather together as a community to slaughter a sheep or goat in order to give its meat to charity.  Since there is no school and most businesses are closed, many people attend special prayers at their mosque and readings from the Qu’ran are heard.

Labour Day (May 1): Also known as International Worker’s Day. It not only celebrates the international labor movements and labor unions, but also the individual workers and labor issues that need to be addressed.  One of the largest labor issues in Djibouti is the large unemployment number – most estimates are between 50-60% unemployed. Most of the people living in rural areas work in subsistence agriculture, for which there is no labor union.  Most of those who are working do not earn a living wage, and the established workweek is 48 hours/6 days a week.  There are reports of trafficked persons and forced labor.  Child labor (workers under 16 years old) is also a problem and actually against the law. But there is a shortage of labor inspectors, so no one is really punished or fined.  Likewise, there are also established safety standards and laws on the books towards this, but without safety inspectors, who’s to enforce it?

 Independence Day (June 27): This is the day which Djibouti celebrates its independence from France.  Cities and towns across the country decorate their public buildings and homes in blue, green, and white.  They actually had three referendum votes that took place in order to get enough votes to officially move towards independence in 1977 – which makes Djibouti 36 years old this year (that’s only two years older than I am!) and the third youngest country in Africa.  The day is not complete without the military parade to honor those Djiboutians who have died in battle, and a fireworks display in the nation’s capital at midnight. 

End of Ramadan (varies, July-August): Also called Eid al-Fitr; or in Somali, it’s known as Ciid Yare.  This holiday is a huge celebration that is held on the last days of the month-long fast known as Ramadan.  While people may attend special prayers at the mosque, its focal point is the huge feast people share with their family and close friends.  Children may also receive small presents, money, and new clothes. 

Muslim New Year (varies, October-November): Also called Muharram. It’s regarded as the first day of the month in which Mohammad made his trip from Mecca to Medina. However, there really aren’t any universal traditions associated with it, other than a general time for reflection.  Probably why I wasn’t able to find much info on this holiday. 

 Christmas Day (December 25): If you haven’t noticed yet, this is the only Christian holiday that made the list.  For the small number of Djiboutian Christians (as well as the small number of European and other foreign residents and US military members) in Djibouti, they usually head to their local church, which is usually decorated in lights and candles, for a special midnight prayer service and choral singing.  I’m gathering that Christmas in Djibouti tends to be slightly more focused on the religious basis of the holiday rather than the commercialism often seen in Europe and the US.  Far more laid back. However, I've also read that many Djiboutian Christians celebrate Christmas on the Orthodox calendar – January 7. 

Up next: art and literature

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