Incredible festivals & holidays
According to legend, Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, went to visit his father in Jerusalem, and he brought back to Ethiopia the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets God had given to Moses and is said to be still preserved in Axum. Every Ethiopian church contains a copy of the Ark of the Covenant, called “Tabot”. During some religious ceremonies these copies are hidden in heavy and colorful brocades and carried in processions.
BRIGHT, COLORFUL AND PICTURE PERFECT
The religious festivals of the Ethiopian Orthodox church are a highlight of the Ethiopian calendar with ceremonies held throughout the country.
GENA ETHIOPIAN CHRISTMAS – 7 JAN
The colorful ceremony of Christmas Eve is held within the unforgettable rock hewn churches of Lalibela. Thousands of pilgrims travel to Lalibela for two reasons: To celebrate Christmas and the birthday of former priest King Lalibela. With chanting and dancing led by Lalibela priests, the people sing with joy along to rhythmic drum beats to celebrate the birth of Christ.
EVE OF TIMKET (EPIPHANY) – 18 JAN
The holy Tabot, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, is taken from each church to a central area accompanied by priests bearing prayer sticks followed by keen believers ringing bells, blowing trumpets and carrying incense burners.
TIMKET BAPTISM OF CHRIST – 19 JAN
The festival commemorates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Priests sprinkle holy water over the Christians present and receive the renewals of their vows. The congregation then follows the bishops, elders and clergy as the Tabot is carried back to the church. Fasiladas’ bath in Gondar is the best place to experience the colourful celebration of Timket It is hilarious see hundreds of pilgrims jump into the water of Fasilidas bath at the end of the celebration.
HOSANNA PALM SUNDAY – 5 APRIL
The Sunday before Easter is the Feast of Hosanna or known as Palm Sunday. It commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ with his disciples into Jerusalem. People welcomed Jesus by spreading palm branches. Axum has a colorful procession for Hosanna which is worth a visit.
FASIKA ETHIOPIAN EASTER – 12 APRIL
Ethiopian Easter is conducted in remembrance of the fasting, suffering, and crucifixion of Jesus. A fascinating all night prayer vigil is available at all Orthodox Churches. Addis Ababa’s Holy Trinity, Axum, and Lalibela church are particularly special.
BUHE TRANSFIGURATION FEAST – 19 AUG
Buhe commemorates the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor. After the mass, people of the neighbourhood tie a bundle of sticks together to make a chibo (stick bundle) are burned with participants singing, similar to Meskel.
ETHIOPIAN NEW YEAR – 12 SEP
Enkutatash is the word for the Ethiopian new year in the official language of Ethiopia: Amharic. It represents the first day of the New Year in Ethiopia. It occurs on Meskerem 1 on the Ethiopian calendar, which is September 11 (or, during a leap year, September 12) according to the Gregorian calendar. Literally, Enkutatash means ‘Gift of Jewels’. The date traditionally marks the end of the season of heavy rains and is more recently or historically set by the return of the Queen of Sheba to Ethiopia after her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem. The capital is alive with citywide concerts, fireworks, everyone dressed in traditional clothes, and attending parties with generous amounts of food. Children create homemade “happy new year” cards with drawing of flowers and deliver these gifts to neighbors. Yellow daisies known as “Adey Ababa” are used to decorate homes, coffee ceremonies, restaurants, and hotels.
MESKEL FINDING OF THE TRUE CROSS – 28 SEPT
This vibrant national holiday has been observed throughout the country by Ethiopian Christians for over 1,600 years. It commemorates the discovery of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, by the Empress Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great. On the eve of Meskel there is a celebration held at Meskel Square. Tall branches are tied together and yellow daisies, popularly called Meskel flowers, are placed on top before the bonfire is lit.
HIDAR TSION – 1 DEC
From around 200 BC to 700 AD, Axum was the seat of an Empire which extended across the Red Sea to Arabia, traded with India and China, had its own alphabet and constructed great engineering works. In the 4th century Axum was considered to be one of the four great powers of the ancient world. The Mariam Tsion church in Axum is said to house of the Ark of the Covenant. The ceremony at Mariam Tsion sees pilgrims from all over the country come to express thanks after the fulfillment of a wish, or in the hope of miraculous cure.
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