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This year’s Genna celebrations take place, under the shadow of untamed inflation, a troubled economy, and an uneasy peace. Predictably, prices for virtually everything have gone up, yet, crowds thronged the capital’s markets.

Although trade remains subdued compared to past Genna celebrations, the market is by no means dead. Gift-giving, has become an increasingly important aspect of holiday shopping, as Western Christmas tradition continues to gather steam in urban Ethiopia.

Still, the gifts become less ostentatious as consumers balance their holiday desire with their ever-falling spending power.

Cakes have emerged as the perfect solution as an affordable and suitable present; ever-popular as tighter pockets decide against the live sheep and bottles of whiskey that were the gifts of choice during holidays past.

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The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the act of gift-giving have become closely associated over two millennia, with the tradition stemming from the biblical story of the Three Wise Men, or Magi, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus.

The tale is an enduring part of the Christmas holiday and has influenced the practice of exchanging gifts during the holiday season, particularly in Western Christianity.

Gift-giving has also become an increasingly common feature of Christmas celebrations in Ethiopia, particularly in Addis Ababa and other major urban areas.

Genna (also called Led) is the Ethiopian equivalent of Christmas, celebrated on the 7th of January every year. Contemporary Ethiopian Genna celebrations retain most of the holiday’s traditional aspects – adherents of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith break a 40-day fast on Christmas Day – but other practices are gradually fading away.

For example, Ye-Genna Chewata (a type of field hockey traditionally played on Christmas Day) no longer carries the grandeur it was afforded during the Imperial Era, and is all but a relic in today’s urban Ethiopia.

Instead, the residents of Addis Ababa are increasingly adopting a more Western approach to the holiday with the practice of exchanging gifts. It is a trend that offers novel opportunities for business, and many are quick to take advantage.

Martha Bealu, 35, lives in the capital with her husband and their two children. To Martha, Genna is more than a holiday. She believes the holiday is an opportunity to express love and joy with family and loved ones, and a time for generosity.

Martha, Genna is synonymous with gift-giving.

This year, Martha spent the weeks leading up to the holiday crafting a gift-list, taking time for thoughtful consideration of each recipient’s preferences, hobbies, and wishes.

Martha says that the true essence of gift-giving is in the thought and effort put into selecting the perfect present.

Armed with her list, Martha took to bustling shops and markets in search of unique and meaningful gifts for her loved ones. She spent hours looking for what she had in mind, carefully considering the 15,000 birr budget set aside for purchasing presents.

Her enthusiasm bore fruit in the days leading up to Genna.

For her husband, Martha bought a pair of sunglasses for 700 birr and a bottle of cologne for 5,800 birr. At another store, Martha purchased two stuffed polar bears for her children, shelling out 3,500 birr apiece for the toys.

“I hope to see my family bursting with joy as they unwrap the gifts,” said Martha. “Nothing in the world would bring me greater happiness.”

Gift-giving enthusiasts who do not have the time or energy that Martha puts into her Genna preparations can opt to have their presents delivered via a growing number of courier services in the city.

But the leading items Addis Ababans are preferring for gift, is cake. Cake seems the equalizer leading in the order lists of both low and high incomers. Cattle suppliers and butcheries say the interest for cattle is down. As the days get closer to the holiday, buyers are ignoring sheep, whiskey, cattle, especially bulls and even the traditional meat sharing scheme of Kerchadue to the skyrocketed price.

However, the orders for cakes have skyrocketed, according to The Reporter’s market survey.

Besrat Belay is founder and owner of Chaka Coffee. Established in 2016, Chaka has four branches in the capital now. Cake bakers at the pastry of Chaka coffee around Wuha-limat known as Zerihun building, has become supper-occupied as Genna draws near.

As of Friday, over 1,500 Torta cakes are ordered, according to Besrat. The Torta cake costs between 1,150 birr and 1,250 birr.

“Torta is preferred for family gift. More gift-givers are preferring cake, because it is affordable than other gift items that are getting more expensive,” says Besrat.

These delivery service providers are organized under the Ethiopian Couriers Association.

Rosa Kassa, a coordinator at the Association, observes the widespread adoption of gift exchange during the holiday season, particularly in Addis Ababa. She told The Reporter about the popularity of customized gift packages, tailored to each customer’s needs.

“These delivery services curate gift packages that encompass a variety of items, including chocolates, cookies, gift cards, wine, and even jewelry,” she said.

Online platforms are an integral part of these gift deliveries. They offer a convenient way for customers to browse, choose, and order gifts. The ability to reach a wider audience, provide diverse product options, and offer seamless transactions enhances the overall customer experience.

Utilizing online channels can also streamline order management and improve delivery logistics.

Maki Brands is a retailer involved in the Christmas gift-giving business, conducting most of its trade online. It specializes in a variety of gift items such as perfumes, chocolates, gift cards, flowers, wine, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. These items, sourced from wholesalers, are showcased on their website, where customers can tailor a package to fit their needs.

A representative of Maki Brands explained that customers often place orders for Christmas packages either for delivery or by personally visiting the store. Two service options are provided: pre-prepared Christmas packages from distributors and customized packages tailored to customers’ holiday preferences.

“Women typically opt for watches, perfumes, and bracelets in their Christmas gift packages, while men prefer necklaces, earrings, flowers, and chocolates,” said the rep.

Prices for the packages on sale at Maki range from 3,000 birr to 8,000 birr.

Perfumes and colognes, observes the representative, are especially popular choices for gifts during the holiday season.

The phenomenon marks a shift in the celebration of Genna in urban Ethiopian society from a purely religious observance to a holiday with a focus on consumerism, often centered around the ritual of gift-giving. Studies present a varied view on the macro-economic impact of public holidays, with some indicating increased consumer spending in sectors like tourism and retail, offsetting direct costs to other businesses.

Yonatan Beyene, vice-president of the Ethiopian Couriers Association, and Abiy Mekonen, commerce manager at Red Cloud ICT Solution, emphasize the crucial role of holiday marketing in enhancing a country’s economic activity.

They advocate for leveraging the growing demand and advanced payment systems in the globalized world by promoting online businesses within the realm of e-commerce as an ideal method to stimulate the national economy.

Abiy observes there are diverse payment methods available, including online payments through CBE or other banks, Ethio-Switch, Chappa, and Telebirr. Still, he notes cash payments upon delivery remain popular in Ethiopia.

Abiy explained that their online business platform is directly linked with the ‘cnet’ company, eliminating the need for telephone communication. The system enables customers to place orders directly with the service provider.

The online business collaborates closely with product providers. These providers, which can include pastry houses, restaurants, or supermarkets, curate holiday packages comprising items such as cakes, wine, prepared foods, sheep, eggs, and butter.

These offerings are seamlessly integrated into the e-commerce system with prices aligned with each provider’s market rates, he added.

“Online orders are transmitted to the cashier, printed, and the order is automatically prepared and sent to the customer. Although we currently lack a delivery service, we offer a self-pickup option for customers. Both payment and orders are processed online with no direct cash transactions,” he said.

Abiy, who held posts at popular delivery services Zmall and Deliver Addis, believes there is much untapped potential in the delivery market. He argues better connectivity with the international market could potentially generate foreign currency earnings.

In a similar vein, Yonatan emphasized that while the digital system is an optimal approach for buying, selling goods and services, or transmitting funds and data over the internet, its effectiveness relies on a well-organized structure to benefit the country and meet customer needs.

Driven by the high expenditures, holiday transactions are also spurring markets, but with insignificant impact on the GDP. If not for the lack of disposable money and high inflation, experts say holiday markets especially Enkutatash, Sand and Genna could play a significant role in boosting the economy.

Despite substantial customer demand, Yonatan highlighted the adverse impact of disorganized business practices and a lack of proper guidelines in the sector.

“Untraceable online entities disrupt the market, hindering its growth,” he told The Reporter.

Yonatan argues that delivery services under the Ethiopian Couriers Association provide more than just consumer goods. He says Eshi Delivery, the company he runs, offers an interlinked marketing connection to the international market, delivery outside the capital through various methods, and delivering bank documents and blood samples within the capital.

“As crucial as e-commerce is, especially for a country like Ethiopia grappling with foreign currency shortages, there is minimal focus on this sector,” he said.

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