Celebrations in Ethiopia are great and colorful events, mostly religious, and frequently take place over several days. Important Christian holidays include Meskal, Christmas, Timket, Kiddus Yohannes and Easter. Timket, which marks Christ's baptism, is the most colorful event of the year. In September, the two-day feast of Meskal marks the finding of the True Cross. Kiddus Yohannes. New Year's Day comes on September 11, which coincides with the end of the season of heavy rains and the beginning of spring Muslim holidays are based on the lunar calendar and thus fall at different times each year. The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is devoted to Ramadan, which is marked by fasting. The greatest Muslim feast of the year is 'Id Al Fatr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan. The 'Id al Adha is the feast marking Abraham's sacrifice. On these days, after praying and listening to the imam (religious leader) preach, Muslim Ethiopians sacrifice animals and distribute part of the meat to the poor. Wearing new clothes, they visit friends and relatives as well as family graves. Horse races are also traditional on these days. Muslims also celebrate the Prophet Mohammed's birthday on September 20 and mark the anniversaries of numerous martyrs.
(Ethiopian New Year) 11 September This festival celebrates both the New Year and the Feast of John the Baptist at the end of the long rains in spring, when the Highlands become covered in wild flowers. The Ethiopian New Year falls in September at the end of the big rains. The sun comes out to shine all day long creating an atmosphere of dazzling clarity and fresh clean sir. The highlands turn to gold as the Meskal daisies burst out in their entire splendor. Ethiopia children, clad in brand-new clothes, dance through the villages giving bouquets of flowers and painted pictures to each household. September 11 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 retuned from her expensive journey to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with enku, or jewels.
The spring festival has been celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside. Children dressed in new clothes dance through the villages, distributing garlands and tiny paintings. In the evening every house lights a bonfire and there is singing and dancing The main religious celebration takes place at the 14th-century kidus Yohannes church in the city of Gaynet within the Gondar Region. Three days of prayers, psalms and hymns, and massive colorful processions mark the advent of the New Year. Closer to Addis Ababa, the Raguel Church, on top of Entoto Mountain north of the city, has the largest and most spectacular religious celebration. Enkutatash is not exclusively a religious holiday. The little girls singing and dancing in pretty new dresses among the flowers in the fields convey the message of spring- time and renewed life. Today's Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal New Year greetings and cards among the urban people.
Meskel, one of the major Ethiopian orthodox festivals celebrated on 27th September. It is a two days festival. Meskel festival is typically religious. Legend has it that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was discovered in the year 326 by Queen Helena/Empress Helen, Mother of Constantine the Great, and Unable to find the Holy Sepulchre, she prayed for help and was directed by the smoke to where the cross was buried. The queen in her efforts to discover the cross, setup long poles and set them afire. Skyward raised the smoke and down it bent, touching the spot on the earth where the original cross was found buried. After the unearthing of the Holy Cross, Queen Helen lit up torches heralding her success to the neighboring areas. In the Middle Ages, the Patriarch of Alexandria gave the Ethiopian Emperor Dawit half of the True Cross in retum for the protection afforded to the Coptic Christians A fragment of the True Cross is reputed to be held at the Gishen Marien monastery which is about 70 kilometers to the northwest of Dessie. Ethiopians have been celebrating that day for millennium.
There are two occasions on Meskel. The first is Demera, (September 26) this is the bonfire event, it takes place on the eve of Meskel. A bonfire is built topped by a cross to which flowers are tied. The flowers are Meskel daisy. The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church orchestrates the lightening ceremony. After the bonfires are blessed they are lit and dancing and singing begins around them. While the Demera is set on fire there is an inner feeling of brightness and by for all those that are around the Demra. Little Demera are also built at individual houses or villages. After some time the bundle of splinters of wood, that has been burning falls. Which direction it falls is very significant north, south, east or west? Interpretations are soon conjectured as to whether the fields of corn are going to be plentiful or not, or there is peace all year round, etc. At the closing of the Demera some shower of rain is expected to fall so as to help put the fire off. If the rain fell and the fire is extinguished by the will of nature, there is a belief that things get fine and the year becomes prosperous. Priests in full ceremonial dress sing around the bonfire. The day after the Demra is Meskel. The festival is observed with plenty of food and drinks served during on that day, you see believers going to the spot of the Demera and making cross signs on their head with the ashes another sign devotion to the cross. The festival considers with the mass blooming of the golden yellow Meskel daisies called as Aday Ababa in Amharic: symbolically herding the advent of New Year after the rainy season is over. The best place to see the Meskel Festival is in the capital Addis Ababa at the famous Meskel Square. But all along the classical route (Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum, and Lalebela) and in other major towns, the ceremony is colorfully celebrated and one can experience it colorfully.
For people brought up in the northern hemisphere, Christmas is traditionally associated with the snow and ice of winter; in the southern hemisphere and equatorial regions, of course, the festival is held in much warmer weather. But snow or sun, people of many nations has celebrated Christmas yet again, although not necessarily on the same day. The Gregorian calendar celebrated Christmas on the 25th of December beginning an exciting period, which saw the closing of one year and the start of another. While excitement over Christmas festivities dies down in other parts of the world: it marks the beginning for many Ethiopians. Ethiopia still retains the ancient Julian calendar so Ethiopian Christmas falls on January 7th (of the Gregorian calendar)-a hot summer's day when people in towns and villages dress up in their finest to celebrate this important festival. The Ethiopian name given to Christmas is Ledet or Genna, on the other hand, according to elders, comes from the word Gennana (eminent) to express the coming of the Lord and the freeing of mankind from his sins. Genna is also the name given to a hockey-like ball game. Legend has it that when shepherds heard of the birth of Christ they rejoiced and started playing the game with their sticks. Men and boys in villages now play the traditional Genna game with great enthusiasm in the late afternoon of Christmas day-a spectacle much enjoyed by village communities and the elders who referee the game. However, in a country where religion is strongly interwoven with the lifestyles of its people, Genna festivities begin earlier in the day, as early as 6 A.M when people gather in churches for mass. For the clergy it has begun much earlier, 43 days before, with the fasting period leading up to Genna. This pensive fasting period is required of the clergy and is known as the fast of the prophets. The fast of Advent is carried out to cleanse the body and soul in preparation for the day of the birth of Christ. Everyone stands throughout the service of worship for up to three hours. The clergy and Debtera (scholars versed in the liturgy and music of the church) lift their voices in hymn and chant just as it has been for over a thousand years when Ethiopia accepted Christianity. This ancient rite culminates in the spectacular procession of the Tabot (the Tabot is designed after the Ark of the Covenant and carried on top of a priest's head).
The procession makes its way three times around the church amidst ululation and chiming church bells, dazzling umbrellas and colorful attire of the clergy and Debteras (especially designed to accompany the Tabot) as well as a throng of Christians who follow the procession with lighted candles. After mass people disperse to their homes to feast and the clergy bread their fast. Food and drink is plentiful, with many homes preparing the special meals characteristic of all big festivities highlighted on the Ethiopian calendar. Food served at Christmas includes Doro Wat and Injera, a spicy chicken stew eaten with the sourdough pancake-like bread. Often Tej, a local wine-like drink made from honey, accompanies the feast. Christmas is quietly shared and celebrated in groups of friends and family. Gift giving is a very small part of Christmas festivities in Ethiopia. Only small gifts are exchanged amongst family and friends at home. But one gift most eagerly awaited by all children is a new outfit that they wear with pride and joy on Christmas day. The festive mood continues until the late hours of the evening. However, there is something special that endures long past the sun-drenched day of Ethiopian Christmas, or Christmas day celebrated by the world at large. This sparkle and joy, giving and sharing, extends beyond religious beliefs and spreads the spirit of peace on eat and goodwill to all mankind throughout the world.
Timket is the greatest colorful festival of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia, Falling on 19 January or 20 January (once in every four year when it is leap year). It celebrates the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. It is a three-day affair and all the ceremonies are conducted with great pomp. The eve of Timket 18 Jan is called Ketera. This is when the Tabots of each churches being carried out in procession to a place near a river or the water of a pool where the next day's celebration will take place. A special tent is set up where each Tabots rest, each hosting a proud manner depicting the church's saint in front. The members of the church choirs chant the hymns. This is accompanied by special dance of priests with their pray sticks and sistera, the beating of the drum, ringing of bells and blowing of trumpets. A Tabot symbolizes the arc of the covenant and the ten tablets of the low, which Moses received on Mount Sinai. It is the tabot rather than the church building, which is consecrated, and it is accorded extreme relevance. When the tabot is carried out, it is wrapped in brocade or velvet "like mantle of Christ" and carried on the head of a priest; and colorful ceremonial umbrellas shade it. Processional crosses of varying size and elaboration, and a very Ethiopian art characteristic are also seen on the occasion. The priests pray throughout the cold night and mass are performed about 2 A.M. The next day (19Jan) towards dawn concourse of people and ecclesiastics go to the water and attend the praying of the priests. After the pray, a senior priest dips a golden processional cross which is blessing the water and extinguishes a burning consecrated candle in the water. Then he sprinkles the water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ's baptism. Many of the more fervent leaps fully dressed into the water to renew their vows. Timkete Kerstos- baptism of Christ, ceremony is merely a commemoration, not an annual rebaptism. After the baptism the Tabots of each church, except St. Michael's church, start their way back to their respective churches. The priests, deacons continue up to the end of the day.
The elders marching solemnly, accompanied by singing, leaping of priests and young men, the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalls the ancient rites of the Old Testament (11 Sam.Chap.6) The next day, 20 Jan, is feast of Michael the Archangel, Ethiopia's most popular saint. And it is only in this morning it is returned to his church, again on its way is accompanied by the feast, singing and dancing of priests and locals with their colorful dressing. Thus ends the three-day celebration, a unique ceremony of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the world. Timket, truly is the most spectacular of Ethiopia's festival. This is an extremely colorful festival. The best place to attend the event is Lalibela, Gondar or Addis Ababa. In Addis Ababa many tents are pitched at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city centre. At 0200 there is a Mass, and crowds attend, with picnics lit by oil lamps. At dawn the priest extinguishes a candle burning on a pole set in a nearby river using a ceremonial cross. Some of the congregations leap into the river. The Tabots are then taken back to the Churches in procession, accompanied by horsemen, while the festivities continue
St Gabriel is the Patron Saint who guards over homes and churches. There is a huge pilgrimage to St Gabriel's Church on Kulubi hill, which is on the route from Addis Ababa eastwards, about 70 kilometres before Dire Dawa. Many pilgrims carry heavy burdens as penance, children are brought to be baptized, and offerings are made to be distributed to the poor.
Bands of small boys call at each house, singing and jostling until they are given some fresh dough (buhe), that is being prepared for baking. In the evening, bonfires are lit outside each home.
(commemorates the victory by Menelik II over Italy in 1896) 2 March
(celebrates end of Italian occupation in 1941) 6 April
(Ethiopian Easter Sunday) May (variable)
(end of month of fasting for Ramadan) May (variable)