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Ethiopian Festivals

ethiopien festival

Festivals, Holidays and Celebrations in Ethiopia

Festivals in Ethiopia are celebrated with great pump and are colorful events often lasting several days. Important Christian holidays include Timket, Meskal, Ethiopian Christmas and Ethiopian New Year. The most important Muslim festival is the 'Idd Al Fatr.

Refer to: linkFestival Tours

Meskel - Finding of the True Cross

Addis Ababa - Meskal Festival bonfireMeskel, one of the major Ethiopian orthodox festivals is celebrated on 27th September and lasts for two days. Legend says that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was discovered in the year 326 by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. Unable to find the holy artifact, she set up long poles and set them on fire. Skyward raised the smoke and down it bent, touching the spot on the earth where the original cross was found buried. Queen Helen lit up torches heralding her success to the neighboring areas.


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Timket - Ethiopian Epiphany

Lalibela - Timket Festival 1 Baptism of Christ, 19 January
Timket is the greatest festival of orthodox Christians in Ethiopia. Falling on the 19 of January (or the 20 of January once in every four years), it celebrates the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. It's a three-day affair and all the ceremonies are conducted with great pomp. The eve of Timket (18 January) is called Ketera. On this day the tabots of each church are carried out in procession to a place near a river where the next day's celebration will take place. A special tent is set up for each tabot, each hosting a proud manner depicting the church's saint. The ceremony is accompanied by hymns and dances of the priests, drum beating, bell ringing and blowing of trumpets.

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Enkutatash - Ethiopian New Year

The Ethiopian New Year falls, due to Ethiopia's different time counting, on September 11th. The festival celebrates both the New Year and the feast of John the Baptist and has not only a religious background but also celebrates the end of the rainy season and the beginning of spring.

At this time the highlands turn gold with the yellow flowers of the Meskal daisies. The sun comes out creating an atmosphere of dazzling clarity and fresh clean sir. Children dressed in new clothes dance through the villages, distributing garlands, greetings and tiny paintings to the households. In the evening, in rural areas, every house lights a bonfire and there is singing and dancing.

The New Years day is also called Enkutatash, meaning 'the gift of jewels'. The name comes from a gift the chiefs of Queen Sheba made her, when she returned from an expensive journey from Jerusalem. The main religious celebration takes place in Gaynet, near Gondar, in the 14th century Kidus Yohannes Church. Three days of prayers, psalms and colorful processions mark the advent of the New Year.

In Addis Ababa, the largest celebration takes place in the Raguel Church, on top of Entoto Mountain, about 10 km from the city centre.

Genna - Ethiopian Christmas

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 celebrates Christmas on the 25th of December while Ethiopian Christmas falls on January the 7th - a hot summer's day - , since Ethiopia uses still the Julian calendar. While excitement over Christmas festivities dies down in other parts of the world in Ethiopia it is just beginning.

The Ethiopian name for Christmas is Genna, which comes from the word Gennana (eminent) and expresses the coming of the Lord to free mankind of its sins. Genna is also the name of a hockey-like game which is said to have been played by the shepherds when they heard of the birth Christi. Men and boys in villages now play the traditional Genna game with great enthusiasm in the late afternoon of the Christmas day - a spectacle much enjoyed by village communities and elders. Genna begins early in the day, around 6 AM, when people gather in churches for mass.

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Other Events


Feast of St. Gabriel, 28. December
St. Gabriel is the Patron Saint who guards over homes and churches. There is a huge pilgrimage to the St. Gabriel's church on the Kullubi hill, about 70 km from Addis Ababa near Dire Dawa. Many pilgrims carry heavy burdens as penance, children are brought to be baptized and offerings are distributed to the poor.

Buhe, 21. August

Bands of small boys wander from house to house, singing and jostling until they are given some sweets, money or fresh dough (buhe). In the evening, bonfires are lit outside each home.

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