Meskel: Ethiopian festival for the true Cross a ‘cultural heritage experience’

Big crowds, white clothing, dark-skinned people

Meskel celebrations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by peteropaliu, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27: Across Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox communities, bonfires on the eve of Meskel remind families of an ancient story: the vivid dreams and forthcoming discovery of the true Cross by Queen Helena, in the fourth century. On Meskel, the faithful attend religious services, gather with family and feast together.

The traditional story tells that St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire. After adding incense, smoke rose high into the sky then returned to the ground to touch the precise spot where the true Cross was located. Then, a part of the true Cross was brought to Ethiopia where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.

MESKEL: AN ANCIENT (AND UNIQUE) CELEBRATION

The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years. Although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, Ethiopians certainly enjoy the festival today. Colorful processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. Ethiopia recently petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and spicy hot peppers complement plates mounded with food, as family-honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from Genius Kitchen.) Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences.

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Categories: Christian

Timkat: Ethiopian Christians reenact baptism of Jesus with vibrant festival

Close-up of three dark-skinned men in elaborate religious robes and carrying ornate cloth umbrellas under sunny skies

Priests celebrate Timkat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Andrew Heavens, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JANUARY 19: Rich, deep hues and velvet fabrics dot the landscape in Ethiopia during one of the grandest festivals of the year: Timkat, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian ceremony commemorating the baptism of Jesus. As the countryside’s rolling hills are blooming with yellow spring flowers, pilgrims and priests dress in their finest clothing and form a procession that weaves through the rock-hewn churches and age-old passageways of Ethiopia. Central to the processions are models of the Ark of the Covenant (called tabots), carried by priests with caution and pride. To Ethiopian Christians, the tabot signifies the manifestation of Jesus as the Savior, when he came to the Jordan River to be baptized.

Did you know? Ethiopia is home to more UNESCO sites than any other country in Africa. In December 2013, the Demera festival of the Meskel holiday was registered as world intangible heritage by UNESCO; Ethiopia has since submitted study findings of three intangible cultural heritages to UNESCO for registration, one of which is Timket (Timkat).

Timkat events begin on Timkat eve, when the tabots are ceremoniously wrapped in cloth and carried by priests in a procession. In the earliest morning hours, while the sky is still dark, crowds gather near bodies of water to witness a blessing of the waters—a reenactment of the baptism of Christ. Crowds are sprinkled with water, and baptismal vows are renewed. When all rituals are complete, pilgrims return home for feasts and continued celebrations.

News organizations in the U.S. rarely cover Timkat, but reporters from the UK, India and Africa usually file stories. This year, the India-based Economic Times advises readers on the best spots in Ethiopia to visit for Timkat celebrations:


The Timkat Festival, an Orthodox Christian celebration of Epiphany, remembers the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. While Timkat is celebrated across the nation, the best place to attend the event is Lalibela, Gonder or Addis Ababa. The festival kick starts with a procession, during which the Tabots, models of the Ark of the Covenant, present on every Ethiopian altar are brought in from churches around Gondar. The Tabots are borne in procession, on the head of the priest, parading through the streets. The priests, escorted by drums and worshippers making merry, hold an overnight vigil until dawn. The services the following morning culminate in the priests blessing the waters of the historic Fasilides Bath. In Addis Ababa many tents are pitched in the grassy field at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city centre.

Care to learn more?

If you have the Smithsonian channel available in your home, an episode of the Secrets series focuses on the Ark of the Covenant and includes a section on Ethiopia. Here is a link to watch an excerpt of that episode.

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Categories: Christian

Ethiopians celebrate first Meskel since making UNESCO list

Children in colorful robes with dark skin stand in crowd appearing to perform

Children participate in the Meskel festivities at Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, 2012. Photo by opalpeterliu, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26: Bonfires ignite an ancient story as darkness spreads across the Ethiopian landscape tonight: Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Christians celebrate Demera, the eve of the grand holiday of Meskel. Recalling the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helena in the fourth century, the bonfires of Meskel eve recreate the colossal bonfire that St. Helena experienced in a dream. Ethiopians remember a traditional Christian story that says St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire; after adding incense, the bonfire’s smoke rose high into the sky and, returning to the ground, touched the precise spot where the true cross was located. It’s believed that a part of the true cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.

DEMERA AND MESKEL:
‘IMMENSE PARTICIPATION OF THE SOCIETY’

The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years, and although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, today’s Ethiopia is packed with adherents who grandly celebrate Meskel. (Photographs and more of last year’s ceremonies are at International Business Times.) Colorful Demera processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. (Learn more from Wikipedia and AllAfrica.) Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday. On Meskel, the people of Ethiopia attend religious services, gather with family, and feast together.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. Ethiopia recently petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

How does Meskel taste, sound and feel? Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and the spiciest of hot peppers dazzle the plates mounded with food, as family honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from Food.com.)

Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences. (Toast your own cup to the coffee ceremony—or celebrate with family and friends—by learning more here.)

 

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Categories: Christian