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.