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Ethiopia Celebrates New Millennium, Unique Culture

In September 2007 Western time, Ethiopians rang in their new millennium, seven-and-a-half years after the rest of the world. Ethiopia's unique way of measuring time is part of the country's rich religious and cultural heritage, evident in many sites throughout the land. Cathy Majtenyi visited Ethiopia and files this report on the passage of time.

Ethiopia officially entered the year 2000 at the stroke of midnight on September 12th. In the capital, Addis Ababa, the last hours of 1999 Ethiopian time included cultural dancing and a concert by the American hip hop group, the Black Eyed Peas.

Others chose to greet the early hours of the new millennium in a more solemn manner.

The fact that Ethiopia is the last country on earth to ring in the new millennium arises from its Orthodox Christian calendar, which the entire country follows. The calendar is based on Holy Scripture and is closest to the Jewish calendar.

An Ethiopian year is divided into 12 months consisting of 30 days each. And there is an additional month -- called Pagume -- consisting of five days, or six if it is a leap year.

To avoid confusion between Ethiopian and Western time, all calendars in Ethiopia list dates of both calendars simultaneously, so people can easily "translate" the time when dealing with the outside world.

The West used to follow the same calendar as Ethiopia, but switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, Western time.

Abuna Paulos I is patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church. He explains why Ethiopia follows its unique calendar. "It's also quite special manner for Ethiopians to remain loyal to what they were given in the very beginning."

The patriarch explains that the new millennium gives the world a chance to appreciate Ethiopia's rich history. The magnificence of the past is evident in many areas of Ethiopia.

Among the most famous historical sites of the past millennium are the 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. UNESCO considers the area a World Heritage Site.

In the historic town of Gondar are grand castles, the first built by King Alem-Seghed Fasilades in 1632 Western time.

Tekle Mitiku is the head of Gondar City's Culture, Tourism, Labor and Social Affairs office. He says the construction of the Gondar castles has a lot to teach Ethiopians. "We all have to make our contribution. Our fathers did their part. This is a very good example for the new generation."

The islands of Lake Tana in Bahar Dar are home to more than a dozen monasteries, mostly built from the 13th to the 15th centuries.

One such monastery is Ura Kidane Mehret constructed in 1410 Western time and housing stunning paintings of the life of Jesus.

As they celebrate the coming of the next thousand years, many Ethiopians look back on the last millennium with pride and vow to continue to achieve great things in times to come.