ENKUTATASH | MESKAL | CHRISTMAS | TIMEKET
ENKUTATASH (ETHIOPIAN NEW YEAR)
Ethiopia follows the 13th months a year which 30 days each and 5 days or 6 days in leap year. Ethiopian Calendar starts its dating with creation of the world in Genesis more similar like the Julian calendar. We Ethiopians use which is 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7 years behind between September 11 and January 8.
September 11th/ 12th in the leap year 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 returned from her expensive spree to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with enku or jewels.
September falls at the end of the big rains (seasonal transition) where sun comes out to shine all day long creating an atmosphere of dazzling clarity and fresh clean air. River flows clean, the plains turns to yellowish wild daisies burst out in their entire splendor. The month symbolizes the coming of good wishes and festive. At the celebration Ethiopian children dressed in brand new clothes to dance through the villages giving bouquets of flowers and painted pictures to each household.
MESKAL (FINGING OF TRUE CROSS)
The Meskel festival is observed to commemorate the discovery of the True Cross upon which Christ was crucified. It’s the most important events in the spiritual part of Ethiopian culture which is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as Demmera.
The history goes back to 4th c with Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine. That she traveled to Jerusalem and started to excavate by lit incense and prayed for assistance from God in her search for the cross. Then the smoke from the incense drifted in the direction of the buried cross. She dug and found three crosses: one of them was the true cross on which Jesus Christ died. The original event took place on September 26, 326 AD and found it in 19 March 327 AD.
The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on September 17th on the Ethiopian calendar (September 27th on the Gregorian calendar), six months after the discovery of the true cross. The celebration of Meskel recognizes the presence of the true cross in Ethiopia at the Mountain of Gishen Miriam monastery, and also recognizes Empress Helena’s road to finding it. During this time of the year flowers gloom on mountain and plain and the meadows are yellow with the brilliant Meskal daisy. Dancing, feasting, merrymaking, bonfires and even gun salutes mark the occasion.
LIDET (ETHIOPIAN CHRISTMAS)
Lidet falls on December 29th on the Ethiopian calendar (January 7th on the Gregorian calendar). It is celebrated after fasting with a spectacular procession, church service that goes on throughout the whole night. Nowadays it is celebrated with unique ceremony in Lalibela where the clergy commemorates miraculous events which occurred during the birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem. The half of priest perform the hymen at the cliff and the remaining half at the bottom which symbolizes the Angels at the cliff (top) and those at the bottom represent the herds. Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey, called genna, on this day, and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name. Christmas is so sepical nowadays at lalibela.
Hidar Zion- Celebration of Saint Mary of Axum
One of the most fascinating and advanced legendary (may be real history) of Ethiopia is The Ark (lost) of the covenant of Axum. It is widely believed that the Ark of the covenant is currently being held in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark,” who claims to have it in his possession. According to the Axum Christian community, they acquired the Ark during the reign of Solomon, when his son Menelik (Ibin Hakim), whose mother was the Queen of Sheba, stole the Ark after a visit to Jerusalem. Axum Zion (Hidar Zion) is associated with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in Axum. This church is the first to be built in Ethiopia. This festival is attended by tens of thousands of people from all over the World during 27-31 November every year, making it one of the most joyous annual pilgrimages in Axum, the “sacred city of the Ethiopians.”
Ethiopian Epiphany & the feast of St. Michael the Archangel
The Ethiopian epiphany (Timket in Amharic), which is largely considered as one of Ethiopia’s highly rated public events, is a three-day affair involving distinctive religious and cultural activities that commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.
Even though the core religious idea attached to the Ethiopian epiphany is similar to other Christians worldwide, the celebrations are quite unique in Ethiopia.
In 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had inscribed Timket on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which was attributed to unique Timket celebrations across Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian epiphany commemoration starts on the eve of the main festival, which falls on Jan. 18, or Jan. 19.On the first day of the celebration, the Ark of the Covenant replicas (Tabots in Amharic) of each church are carried out in procession to a public space where the next main day’s celebration will take place.
A special tent is set up at the public space where each replica of the Ark of the Covenant rests as members of the church choirs chant hymns all night long and are accompanied by priests with their prayer.The beating of drums, ringing of bells, and other spiritual activities are also integral parts of the Timket celebrations.The Tabots symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
The second day of the celebrations on Jan. 19, or Jan. 20 during a leap year, is the main day of the Ethiopian Epiphany celebrations, in which Ethiopian orthodox congregations from all segments of the society march cheerfully when the Tabots made way back to respective churches.
On the third day of the celebration, which is known as the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, only the Tabot of St. Michael’s is returned to its church with the same singing and dancing of priests and believers. Ethiopia’s historic city of Gondar located in the northwestern part of the country annually hosts hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians across the country, foreign Orthodox Christians as well as tourists.