Meskel: Ethiopian Christian festival deemed a cultural heritage experience

Meskel activities in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Photo by Peter Chou Kee Liu, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27: Across Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Eritrean Orthodox Christian 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.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. (Watch a one-minute video of Meskel celebrations on YouTube.)

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.”

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: A UNIQUE CELEBRATION

Injera bread, Meskel

A basket of injera bread. Photo by Pen Waggener, courtesy of Flickr

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.

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 Food.com.) Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences.

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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

Meskel: Ethiopian Christians celebrate ‘cross’ day

Large group of Ethiopians in multitude of colors of robes

Meskel celebrations in Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27:  Men and women far and wide are mourning the tragic attacks at the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya—once again reminding the world of the many dangers of contemporary life across the African continent. But, just to the north of Kenya in Ethiopia, a colorful outdoor festival will be breaking out this week. Meskel is little known in the U.S., but is a beloved festival of processions, lots of daisies and bonfires, as well, in Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox communities.

The term generally is translated as “cross” and is a feast widely regarded among Ethiopians as a celebration of the True Cross—at least a portion of it—coming to Ethiopia and still preserved today in the cross-shaped Amba Geshen —a mountain in Ethiopia with historic and sacred associations for the Ethiopian people. (Note: Dates vary on many world holidays; Christians celebrate various Feasts of the Cross, each autumn. Wikipedia has an overview of these diverse observances.)

Meskel celebrations begin on Meskel Eve, in commemoration of the famed bonfire that Christian tradition says was lit by Queen Helena in the 4th century. Tradition holds that Queen Helena had a dream in which it was revealed that if she made a bonfire, she would be pointed to the location of the cross on which Jesus Christ had been crucified. At that, Helena ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood to make a pile; frankincense was added to the logs, and flames ignited. (Wikipedia has details.) The smoke rose high and returned to the ground some distance later—at the spot of the true Cross. At the discovery, Empress Helena distributed pieces of the Cross to the Ethiopian Church and other churches.

Ethiopian legend has it that when one stands too close to the true Cross, he is made naked by its strong light; in a preventative measure, the Cross was buried on the sacred mountain. The monastery of Gishen Mariam houses a volume that records the ancient story of the true Cross and how it was obtained.

The bonfires lit on Meskel Eve are known as Demera. The firewood is first covered with fresh daisies, and following the bonfire, charcoal is used to shape a cross onto the foreheads of attendees (similar to Ash Wednesday customs common in Western Christianity).

ETHIOPIAN NEWS: PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION TO BUILD NEW HEADQUARTERS

More recent “good news” from Ethiopia: The Ethiopian Public Health Association (EPHA) recently laid the cornerstone for the construction of new headquarters. Compared to the current rented building, EPHA will soon call home a nine-story building complex. (All Africa has the story.) Construction will be partly funded by the Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Representatives report plans for the building to also offer public health education and training.

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Categories: Christian