Festivals

ENKUTATASH (ETHIOPIAN NEW YEAR)

Ethiopia follows the 13th months a year which 30 days each and 5 days or 6 days in leap year. Ethiopian Calendar starts its dating with creation of the world in Genesis more similar like the Julian calendar. We Ethiopians use which is 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7 years behind between September 11 and January 8.

September 11th/ 12th in the leap year is both New Year's Day and the Feast of St. John the Baptist. The day is called Enkutatash meaning the "gift of jewels." When the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive spree to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with enku or jewels.

September falls at the end of the big rains (seasonal transition) where sun comes out to shine all day long creating an atmosphere of dazzling clarity and fresh clean air. River flows clean, the plains turns to yellowish wild daisies burst out in their entire splendor. The month symbolizes the coming of good wishes and festive. At the celebration Ethiopian children dressed in brand new clothes to dance through the villages giving bouquets of flowers and painted pictures to each household.

MESKAL (FINGING OF TRUE CROSS)

The Meskel festival is observed to commemorate the discovery of the True Cross upon which Christ was crucified. It’s the most important events in the spiritual part of Ethiopian culture which is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as Demmera.

The history goes back to 4th c with Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine. That she traveled to Jerusalem and started to excavate by lit incense and prayed for assistance from God in her search for the cross. Then the smoke from the incense drifted in the direction of the buried cross. She dug and found three crosses: one of them was the true cross on which Jesus Christ crucified. The original event took place on September 26, 326 AD and found it in 19 March 327 AD.

The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on September 17th on the Ethiopian calendar (September 27th on the Gregorian calendar), six months after the discovery of the true cross. The celebration of Meskel recognizes the presence of the true cross in Ethiopia at the Mountain of Gishen Miriam monastery, and also recognizes Empress Helena’s road to finding it. During this time of the year flowers gloom on mountain and plain and the meadows are yellow with the brilliant Meskal daisy. Dancing, feasting, merrymaking, bonfires and even gun salutes mark the occasion.

 

LIDET (ETHIOPIAN CHRISTMAS)

Lidet falls on December 29th on the Ethiopian calendar (January 7th on the Gregorian calendar). It is celebrated after 43 days of fasting with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 am and lasts until 9 am. It is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night, with people moving from one church to another. Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey, called genna, on this day, and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name. Christmas is so sepical nowadays at lalibela.

TIMKET (EPIPHANY)

Timket, or the Feast of the Epiphany, is celebrated in the 19 January of each year. The 3-day event commemorates the baptism of Christ and is one of the most colourful Ethiopian festivals. The night before the Timket, priests take the Tabot (which symbolises the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments) from each church to a tent at a consecrated pool or stream. There is frenetic activity, including the ringing of bells, blowing of trumpets and the burning of incense. Everyone men, women, and children appears resplendent for the three-day celebration. Dressed in the dazzling white of the traditional dress, the locals provide a dramatic contrast to the jewel colors of the ceremonial velvets and satins of the priests' robes and sequined velvet umbrellas.

It is the tabot (symbolizing the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments) and it is accorded extreme reverence. Not to be desecrated by the gaze of the layman, the engraved wooden or stone slab is carried under layers of rich cloth. The priests bearing prayer sticks and siesta, the ringing of bells and blowing of trumpets, and swinging bronze censors from which wisps of incense smoke escape into the evening air. The tabots rest in their special tent in the meadow, and each hoisting a proud banner depicting the church's saint in front.

The priests pray throughout the long cold night and mass are performed around 2:00 a.m. towards dawn the patriarch dips a golden cross and extinguishes a burning consecrated candle in the altar. Then he sprinkles water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ's baptism following the baptism the tabots start back to their respective churches, while feasting, singing and dancing continue. The procession winds through town again as the horsemen cavort alongside, their mounts handsomely decorated with red tassels, embroidered saddlecloths, and silver bridles. The elders march solemnly, accompanied by singing leaping priests and young men, while the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalls the ancient rites of the Old Testament.