Meskel Festival : Finding of the True Cross

Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), is the celebration of the finding of remnants of the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified.  The word “meskel” means “cross” in Amharic.  According to Christian tradition, St. Eleni (Empress Helena) discovered the hiding place of three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus.  In her dream, Eleni was told she should make a bonfire; the direction of the smoke would tell her the exact location of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified.  She followed the directions from her dream, and the smoke landed exactly where the cross was buried.

Meskel celebrations begin the night before with large bonfires topped with a cross and decorated with meskel flowers.  The bonfire preparations are blessed and burned while revelers sing and dance around the fire, locally called demera.  It is believed that the direction of the smoke will predict the future for the year to come.  After the demera has burnt out, the faithful mark crosses on their foreheads with the ash.

The biggest Meskel celebration is in Addis Ababa, held in the centrally-located Meskel Square.  Gondar, Axum and Lalibela are also good locations to celebrate this festival.  Probably the most exuberant celebrations take place in the region of the Gurage people, southwest from Addis.


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Celebrate Timket (Epiphany) – January 19

The Ethiopian celebration of Timket (also known as Epiphany), is a symbolic reenactment of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.  For Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, it serves as a renewal of their baptismal vows.

Timket is a two-day festival, starting the day before, when the church tabot (replica of the Ark of the Covenant) is taken from the church to a nearby location, usually near a body of water.  This is representative of Jesus coming to the River Jordan.  The tabot spends the night in this location while the priests and other faithful hold a vigil through the night.  In the morning the water is blessed and is then sprinkled on the gatherers (or they may chose to bathe in the water), renewing their baptismal vows.  Long parades then carry the tabot back home to the church while the revelers sing and dance.

Gondar is a popular place to witness Timket, as the Bath of Fasilidas provides a stunning backdrop for the festivities.  Lalibela is another popular location, as is Addis Ababa, where it is held at the Jan Meda fairgrounds.


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Why Ethiopia

simien-mountains-ethiopia-large5 reasons to visit Ethiopia, the timeless land

1. The rock churches of Lalibela are hewn from solid stone and represent the flourishing of 12th-century Ethiopian Christianity.
2.  Also in the north of the country, the Danakil Depression is one of the hottest places on Earth – a desert region containing a geological kaleidoscope of fantastically coloured rocks and deposits.
3. The Simien Mountains National Park is a plateau rift by deep valleys and craggy pinnacles, covering 220 square kilometres of northern Ethiopia. It’s has outstanding trekking and rambling.
4. In the south, Lake Langano has several eco lodges on its shores, and the ancient hilltop city of Harar is famous for its idiosyncratic relationship with wild hyenas – it encourages the beasts to roam the streets at night as a form of garbage disposal.
5. The capital Addis Ababa sits in rolling hills 2,355m above sea level and is a safe and atmospheric city of three million people. Sights include the skeleton of Lucy (the world’s oldest yet discovered skeleton estimated to be 3.2 million years old), the palace of former emperor Haile Selassie, and the Merkato – an astonishing array of stalls that’s reputed to be the largest in Africa. The city also has a distinctive food and jazz scene.