Timket is the greatest festival of the Ethiopian year, falling just 2 weeks after Ethiopian Christmas. It is actually a 3-day affair preceded by the eve of Timket when the dramatic processions take place through a night of fasting, to the great day itself and the commemoration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. Ketera, the Eve of Timket is when the Priests bring out the Tabots – replicas of the 2 tablets of laws received by Moses, which are normally housed inside the altar symbolizing the Ark of the Covenant. Priests bless the water of the pool or river where the next day’s celebration will take place. It is the Tabot, rather than the church building which is consecrated and given extreme reverence. Visitors have the unique chance to experience a festival lost to the rest of the world.
Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)
Meskal is second in importance only to Timket and has been celebrated for over 1,600 years. The word actually means “cross” and the feast commemorates when the cross of Christ was revealed to Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. In Addis Ababa, celebrations start in the early afternoon when a procession bearing flaming torches approaches Meskal Square from various directions. Participants include Priests in brightly colored vestments, students, brass bands, contingents of the armed forces and floats carrying huge lit crosses. They circle the “demera” and fling torches upon it while singing a special Meskal song. Thousands gather at the Square to bid farewell to the rains and welcome in “Tseday” the spring season with its profuse “Meskal” daisies and golden sunshine. As evening darkens, the flames glow brighter. It is not until dawn that the burning pyramid consumes itself entirely and the big tree at the center finally falls. During the celebrations, houses are stocked with “tella” the local beer, and strangers are made welcome.
Axum Tsion (Celebration of St. Mary)
The Virgin is one of the most venerated of all religious figures in Ethiopia. About 33 days are annually dedicated to different celebrations in the commemoration of Mary. “Hidar Zion” is associated with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in Axum and the belief that the Ark itself is a symbolism to her womb. This festival is attended by tens of thousands of people from all over Ethiopia, making it one of the most joyous annual pilgrimages in Axum, the “sacred city of the Ethiopians.”
Ethiopian Gena (Christmas)
Year after year Christians recall the story of the Christ child in a manger, shepherds on Judean hills witnessing the celestial song of angels as they pronounced the Long Expected One had come. Celebrated on January 7th and preceded by a fast of 40 days, on the eve of Christmas people gather in churches for mass that lasts about 3 hours. The clergy and “Debtera” (scholars versed in liturgy and music of the church) lift their voices in hymns and chant just as it has been for over a thousand years when Ethiopia accepted Christianity. After mass, the fast is broken so the clergy and crowd alike disperse to their homes to feast. Food and drink is plentiful, with many homes preparing special meals that are characteristic to all big festivities highlighted on the Ethiopian calendar.