In Ethiopia; religion, especially Orthodox Tewahedo is inseparable part of life. The Orthodox Tewahedo Church ceremonies are unique and impressive; especially Timket and Meskel festivals which provide colorful ceremonies and celebrations. People dress in traditional costume and celebrate festivals across the country with colorful unique ceremonies such as Enkutatash (New Year), Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), Ledet (Christmas), Timket (Epiphany) and Fasika (Easter). In these seasons, especial food and drink are plentiful, musicians play and people dance and sing. Theatre halls in Addis Ababa will be full in different way this time.
Islamic tradition also celebrates religious festivals in the Ethiopian.
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Timket is the greatest Ethiopian religious festival. Timkat festival dates back to the legendary history of The Ark of The Covenant. It is believed by Orthodox Church and some scholars that The Ark of Israel, which they were given from God through prophet Mosses, is rested here in Axum, Ethiopia. It is primarily to glorify and commemorate the Ark and the baptism of Jesus the Christ in River Jordan that almost all Ethiopians attend during 18-20 January. During these times, the ark (the duplicate of the original ark) of every church will be seen being carried by clergy men. Attendants will wear the most favorite clothes and play (dance) in front of the Ark. This is more original in Lalibela.
Finding of the True Cross (Meskal)
The True Cross is the name for physical remnants traditionally believed to be from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. According to a number of early writers, the Empress Helena, (250–330 AD) mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, at a date after 312 AD when Christianity was legalized throughout the Empire, travelled to the Holy Land, founding churches and establishing relief agencies for the poor. It was at this time that she discovered the hiding place of three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves that were executed with him. By a miracle it was revealed which of the three was the True Cross. Many churches (including Ethiopian Orthodox Church) possess fragmentary remains which are by tradition alleged to be those of the True Cross.
Meskal, meaning Cross in Amharic version, is one of the most important festivals in Ethiopia. Almost all Ethiopian Christian people celebrate the legendary event; “The Finding of the True Cross”. It has a long history and was widely believed that first celebrated in AD 326.
The finding of the True Cross is celebrates in Ethiopia on every 27 September .The celebration of Meskel assures the presence of the True Cross at mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery and also commemorates the events carried out by Empress Helena.
In the central highlands, the festival begins on Meskal eve by planting a green tree in town squares and village marketplaces. Everyone brings a pole topped with the beautiful yellow Meskal daisies (dry tall plant), which are abundant in Ethiopia at the end of the rains, placed to form a towering pyramid which is then set alight.
In Addis, large crowds gather in Meskel square near the Church of Saint Estifanos. A colorful procession gathers around the huge pyramid and the torch bearers set it alight. Feasting, drinking and dancing continue until dawn. When the central pole of the pyramid falls down, marking the climax of the event. The next day people return to the fire to make the sign of the cross in the remaining-ashes.
In the southern lands of the Oromo, Gurage, Kambata, Hadiya, Welayta and Gamo people, the festival is the most important event of the year and lasts for at least a week!
Mariam Zion/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 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 I (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 Christmas (Genna)
Genna Festival is celebrated on every 05-08 January after a 40 days fasting among Orthodox Christians. On the eve of Christmas or “Genna” as Ethiopians refer to it, people gather in churches to pray in mass that lasts about 3 hours.
The clergies, Priests, Bishop & people lift their voice in hymns and chant just as it has been practiced since 4th century on which Ethiopia (Habasha, Abyssinia) has been accepted Christianity as official religion of the country.
After mass praying, the fast will be broken, and then all classes of people disperse to their homes. Food and drink will be in abundance at these times. Relatives will have a chance to meet and share life and experience. This festival is more traditional in Lalibela.
Fassika (Easter) falls on every 27 April. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church offers special daily prayers during the Fassika season. The church members and those who offer spiritual teachings in the church do not eat until 3 o’clock in the afternoon with the exception of Saturday and Sunday when prayers are conducted early in the morning. This will be continued for 55 consecutive fasting days. Those who participated in fasting will attend the eastern eve at the church praying until 3 o’clock in the morning to hear the announcement “Christ has risen!” Fissika is unique for ornaments of priest’s robes, umbrellas, and etc. Different and plenty of gifts to the children and best traditional clothes to adults will dramatize all over the country. Life seems so wonderful in this time.
Is located 483 kilometers north of Addis Ababa in Wollo Region. Gishen Mariam Church is situated in a marvelous landscape. A fragment from the original True Cross is buried underneath this church. Because of this, this shrine is one of the most sacred churches in the country.
According to tradition, Empress Helena lit incense and prayed for assistance to guide her. The smoke drifted towards the direction of the buried cross. She dug and found three crosses; one of them was the True Cross used to crucify Jesus Christ. Empress Helena then gave a piece of the True Cross to all churches. This piece was then brought to Gishen Mariam, Ethiopia. The monastery of Gishen Mariam holds a volume of a book which records the story of the True Cross of Christ and how it was acquired. Along with, Mekedala Escarpments, and Lake Kayke can be reached.
Kulubi (Saint Gabriel Festival)
The church was built in 1880.The festival of Saint Gabriel (kulubi Gabriel), the Archangel, is celebrated on every December (Tahsas) 19 Ethiopian calendar (December 28 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Kulubi, about 68 kilometers from Dire Dawa. Orthodox Tewahido (one in union) Christians mark the celebration with colorful processions and ceremonies. Kulubi is the largest pilgrimage place in Ethiopia. Pilgrims (about 100,000 People) walk up the hill to the church to fulfill their vow and give gifts to the church. People around the world gather in December for Kulubi. The area surrounding the church becomes almost a carnival site with the arrival of the multitude starting from Tahsas 18(27 December).Babies born through Gabriel’s intervention are brought to the front of the Church for baptism. During the duration of the celebration about 1,000 babies may be christened, most of them named after Saint Gabriel.
Sheik Hussein (Islamic Pilgrimage)
In 13 century, a Muslim Sheikh from the Hadramut (a district on the south coast of Arabia, bounded west by Yemen, east by Oman and North by the Dahna desert), is believed to have landed on the Indian Ocean shoreline and followed the great river, the Wabi Shebelle, from its mouth to its headwaters. Here he settled and preached Islam and performed many miracles. He died in the Bale Mountains. His tomb became a shrine, and the shrine became a village named Sheik Hussein after his death. Sheikh Hussein’s tomb is in a large white sepulcher topped by a red-blue dome. The scene at the sepulcher is dramatic & so religious: pilgrims kiss the walls of the tomb, crying, prostrating themselves and unburdening themselves of their problems. The experience is entirely cathartic. It has continued to be the destination of approximately 50,000 pilgrims twice a year during the Muslim months of Hajj and Rabi` al-Awwal. Most Pilgrimages come from Ethiopia’s remote villages after an arduous journey to pray at the shrine of Sheikh Hussein. Some will travel by donkey or mule, but most will walk on barefoot – for up to 6 weeks or more to reach this sacred place. During 700 years, since the Sheikh’s death, the pilgrimages have evolved into a mixture of Saint Cult and ancient ritual. By tradition, the departure of the pilgrims from their remote villages is governed by the waxing and waning of the moon.