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 began 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.
A member of the Ethiopian church swings his child over flames for a blessing as they celebrate ‘Meskel’, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, at the Ethiopian monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City on September 27, 2015. Meskel, Ge’ez word for cross, is an annual celebration that commemorates the finding of the ‘True Cross’ by the Queen Helena mother of Constantine the Great in the fourth century. AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON (Photo credit should read GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY AARON MAASHO — Ethiopian priests light a bonfire 27 September 2007 in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa during celebrations of the nation’s third millennium. More than 100,000 Ethiopian Orthodox Christians took part in a procession for the first major religious festival of the country’s third millennium, at Addis Ababa’s Meskel square. The festival celebrated the finding of the ‘true cross’ by St. Helena in Jerusalem in the 4th century AD, upon which it is believed Christ was crucified. AFP PHOTO/PETER DELARUE (Photo credit should read PETER DELARUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Enkutatash, which means “Gift of Jewels” is the celebration of the Ethiopian New Year. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of 13 months – 12 months each with 30 days and a final month with 5 days (6 days in leap year). The Julian calendar is 7 years and 8 months behind the Gregorian calendar, which is used throughout most of the Western world. In 2007 (Gregorian calendar), Ethiopia rang in the year 2000 and the new Ethiopian Millennium with colorful celebrations throughout the country.
Enkutatashhappens to come near the end of a long rainy season, coloring the green landscapes with bright yellow flowers (called the Meskel Flower, or adeiabeba in Amharic) and giving great reason to celebrate the new harvest. Torches of dry wood are burned in front of houses on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, girls dressed in new clothes go door-to-door singing songs. Families and friends celebrate together with large feasts.
This day also happens to coincide with the saint’s day of St. John the Baptist. This religious ceremony can be seen at the KosteteYohannes church in the village of Gaynt, where celebrations are carried out for three days. Just outside of Addis Ababa, on the Entoto Mountain, Raguel Church has the largest religious celebration in the country.
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – SEPTEMBER 10: Ethiopians check lambs during the preparations of new year at a local livestock market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on September 10, 2014. Ethiopia will mark the arrival of 2007 on September 11 according to a unique calendar. The streets are now packed with people shopping for live lambs, roosters, among other things. (Photo by Kinfemichael Habetemariam/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – SEPTEMBER 10: An Ethiopian with his relatives carries a lamb during the preparations of new year at a local livestock market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on September 10, 2014. Ethiopia will mark the arrival of 2007 on September 11 according to a unique calendar. The streets are now packed with people shopping for live lambs, roosters, among other things. (Photo by Kinfemichael Habetemariam/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Fasikais Ethiopian Easter and is celebrated in conjunction with Orthodox Easter celebrations around the world. Fasika is the most important holiday in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar andfollows a long 55-day fast, where no meat or dairy products are consumed. Strict followers generally consume one meal of vegetables and lentils during this time. Church services are attended on the eve before the holiday, where revelers participate in a colorful service lit with candles. The following day, families and friends celebrate Fasikawith special feasts that mark the end of the long fast. Doro wat, a spicy chicken stew, is the most traditional food served in all households. Celebrations continue for the following week, with an unofficial “second Fasika” the following weekend.
Axum has a colorful procession for Palm Sunday (known as Hosanna), the week before Fasika which is well worth a visit. Like most holidays, the celebration takes place the night before the actually holiday (Saturday night).
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – APRIL 09: Ethiopians are seen with their leaf crowns for the Hosanna Day (Happiness Day) celebrations ahead of the Easter, near the St. Urael Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on April 09, 2017. (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Genna is Ethiopian Christmas, and coincides with other Orthodox Christmas celebrations around the world. The feast marks the end of the 40-day fasting period of Advent. On Christmas Eve, the faithful participate in church services through the night before celebrating with family and friends on Christmas day. Lalibela one is the most popular place to celebrate Genna, as thousands of pilgrims flock to the holy city for this celebration.
LALIBELA, ETHIOPIA – JANUARY 08: Priest and deacons pause during a processional around Beta Mariam Church on January 8, 2016 in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Amoungst the numerous icons and crosses the priest carry the original Afro Aygebam or “Lalibela Cross” which dates back to the twelthf century during the rule of King Lalibela. Thousands of adhearants to the Ethiopian Orthodox Faith descend upon the Ethiopian city of Lalibela to observe Orthodox Christmas which this year takes place January 6th, 7th and 8th of 2016. Christmas or Gena as it is known in the Amharic tongue usually takes place on January 7 and is observed throughout the Orthodox communities of the world but the celebrations held in Ethiopia this year span 3 days due to a leap year in the Ethiopian calender. The city of Lalibela is home to 11 rock hewn churches constructed by Ethiopian King Lalibela during the course of his rule in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and are deemed amoung the seven man made wonders of the world. Some of those that make the pilgramage to Lalibela come from all over Ethiopia and all over the world with some pilgrims in attendance having walked 3 weeks to attend the celebrations. (Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)