Unlike Western countries that use the Gregorian calendar that begins on January 1 and ends on December 31, Ethiopia uses its own calendar, with the first day of the year falling on September 11 or 12. Even more interesting, the Ethiopian calendar is seven years behind the Gregorian calendar, with Ethiopia having celebrated the beginning of year 2010 on September 11, 2017.
This is something to keep in mind when traveling in Ethiopia and talking about things like your age, for instance. It’s probably a good idea to always clarify when talking about dates, in general, what calendar you’re referring to.
The Origins of the Difference
The Ethiopian calendar is based on the ancient Coptic calendar and is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar. This difference between the two calendars is due to the two different calculations of the birth date of Jesus Christ. In the West, the date was calculated shortly after the year 500 AD by a Roman monk. Meanwhile, in the East, an Alexandrian monk made the calculations differently for the Egyptian calendar on which the Coptic calendar, and later the Ethiopian calendar, was based.
That's why Ethiopia celebrated the end of the second millennium since the birth of Jesus Christ seven years later than the West, on September 12, 2007.
The Ethiopian Calendar
Like the Gregorian calendar, the Ethiopian calendar is based on the solar system. It has 12 months in it with 30 days each, plus a shorter 13th month with five or six days in it depending on whether or not it's a leap year. Like in the Gregorian calendar, the leap year happens every four years.
Meskerem is the name of the first month of the Ethiopian calendar. The first day of Meskerem and the festival of New Year (called Enkutatash, meaning the “gift of jewels”) falls on September 11 of the Gregorian calendar or on September 12 on leap years.
How to Convert Dates
If you don’t want to accidentally present yourself seven years younger than you are (could be an issue if you really want to get on that roller coaster or get that glass of beer), then you better learn how to convert dates between the Ethiopian and the Gregorian calendar.
To do that, remember that the first month of the Ethiopian year begins on September 11 and ends on October 10. Tikemet, the second month, begins on October 11; the third month, Hidar, begins on November 11; and so on. It's easiest, though, to make use of the many calendar conversion tools available online today.
At the very least, remember that the Ethiopian calendar is seven years behind the Gregorian calendar (or eight years if measured between January 1 and September 10).