Yeshi Aweqe is an elderly woman who relies on her late husband’s pension to make ends meet. Yeshi supports two people and has six children that support her to the best of their abilities. Leaving in a Kebele housing built for low income households, Yeshi is hopeful that her kitchen would be full by the time the holiday rolls around.
“There was a time where beef wasn’t as expensive as gold,” he says.
Reminiscing on how she had always lived in poverty but could somehow afford to put together a full holiday meal for her six children and their children; Yeshi is dumbfounded that even on her late husband’s pension, she could buy poultry, and other commodities, and participate in Kircha with her neighbors.
“I always struggled to make ends meet, but somehow it always worked out. These days though, it’s hard to make it through the month with everything secured. I remember not so long ago, me and nine other people would put money together and buy an ox for 8000 birr, to share it as a kircha and not just a small ox but a big one that would have us all set for at least a month. Now I hear that an ox is being sold for 200,000 birr,” Yeshi said, pointing out how dramatically things have changed.
Much like Yeshi, a lot of households are astonished at the comically large price tags set on cattle. What once was considered as an economic and affordable means of getting meat for the holidays and even extend to the weeks after, has now become a dream only a few can afford.
Kircha used to provide an alternative through which lower income households and even well-off families could afford meat after having abstained from it for nearly two months. But these days, the once rich tradition of communion, has become unaffordable for lower income families, and even middle income earners.
In neighborhoods like Yeshi’s, money is not a luxury to be spent just because it fulfills certain holiday cultures. Most households have to carefully and strategically plan for the holiday, knowing that there is still life to attend to after the holidays.
“Back in the day, you’d get a lot of meat from a kircha, that you would even turn some of it into quanta (dried meat) and save some for after the holiday. Now I have to buy meat from the butchers and even that isn’t affordable. This year I am even thinking of just buying a chicken and making due with that,” said Muluemebet Sisay, frustrated over the high price increase of holiday essentials.
Kircha is a traditional, economic sharing of a price of a bull or ox, with a community of people for a feast or celebrations. It is an event that takes place prior to starting the festivities of the holiday, with men of the neighborhood, and party to the kircha, gathered around, helping butcher the ox, while indulging in pieces of raw meat with spices. They partake in that particular feast before each person takes their respective share of the meat.
The culture represents a communal living and trust amongst the community. The meat is never divided using measuring scales but rather the intuition of the butcher. Everyone involved trusts the butcher will be fair with his division of each portions that will be divided amongst members.
“When we partake in a kircha there is so much trust between the parties involved. But in recent years, I’ve had to buy meat from butcher shops and the level of mistrust speaks volumes. They would add bones just to tip the scale or add in inedible meat while you aren’t looking. It really puts trust into question,” said Mulumebet.
That sense of community harbored in the kircha culture lives on in families who share amongst each other, not only for economic purposes, but to keep that feeling of togetherness that comes with sharing.
Wudenesh Legesse, who has a job that pays her enough to get-by, says that each holiday, together with her husband, they buy sheep and share it with their best friends.
“It only feels more like a holiday when we share, laugh and dine with them,” said Wudenesh.
The tradition though seems to live on through other means of affording beef, even though the high prices of beef is putting of many people from indulging in such activities or having meat at all.
Some major corporations organize such traditions for their employees as a way of supporting them through the holidays but others have to find other ways to figure out a way to navigate the holidays based on their earnings. Other families have also started a tradition of organizing a smaller livestock kircha, just to lessen the financial impact and keep the tradition of sharing alive.
For Families like Muluemebet and Yeshi, their monthly earnings have barely changed in the years, yet the things they once afforded are dwindling by the day.
“These days, me and my neighbors get together to share a goat on holidays. The funny thing is we spend almost 8000 birr on a goat, which used to be the price of an ox. We want to hold on to the tradition of sharing, which I think we will keep even if we are unable to afford goats or sheep, said Yeshi.
“As long as we’re alive, we will even organize a kircha for chicken meat, if need be,” added Yeshi, looking at her friend who gave a nod of approval.