Ethiopian Timket (Epiphany) – January 17 and 18

In Ethiopia perhaps there is no better day than Timket to see the Ethiopian Orthodoxethiopian silassie church Church followers and the church itself at their best.

Timket brings Ethiopian christians particulary the Orthodox followers together and forms a blissful environment where ones soul is uplifted above the worldly matters.

Timket is an Amharic word for Epiphany. It is held on January 17 and 18 and every leap year it goes to 18/19. It is the most colorful festival in Ethiopia celebrated by followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The festival starts with decorating the streets and the main avenues on which the tabots (replicas of the Arc of the Covenant) are to pass. The streets are covered by freshly cut green grass and carpets so the priests caring the tabots to walk on.

Churches are also decorated with colorful arts, flags, freshly cut grass and flowers, balloons, and posters on which different verses of the bible quoted.

People are also very colorful in these two days. Many wear white traditional cotton made fabrics of the best type otherwise their best fashioned dresses that would make them feel great and attractive.

In the afternoon of January 17 tens of thousands start flocking to their favorite church to escort the tabots as they go to their baptismal pools.

A typical size of a crowd following a church in Addis could be 20,000 to 100,000 could even be more at some churches. On these days most of the streets are closed for drives and your only option will be walking or choosing smaller streets.

At about 3pm the tabots carried by the priests will start moving to the places where they will be staying a night or two. It is a very slow move of the priests that the whole trek could take at least three hours.

Timket (Epiphany) is a holiday to celebrate the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in River Jordan.  To commemorate Jesus’s walk towards John the Baptist, the priests and the crowd walk few kilometers to where the baptismal pool is placed. This pool is called Timkete-Bahir meaning sea of baptism.

In Addis Ababa, one of the places where the festival is held is Janmeda a huge open field situated in the north eastern part of the city. It gets so colorful here as about 12 churches bring their Tabots and celebrate it all together. You can imagine the crowd following these churches all the way to Janmeda.

The afternoon of the 17th January is spent on accompanying the tabots to the respective baptismal pools.

Various ethnic groups singing and dancing in their languages lead the way whilst the priests caring the tabots follow surrounded by other priests, deacons, and church choirs. Once arrived at the camping site, the tabots rest the night while the singing and praises continue for the whole night.

The next day after the morning prayers, the bishop of the church blesses the water in the pool and begins to splash it on the people. The riot starts here to get the sprinkles which have been waited for. This is a symbolic stance with Christ of his baptism by John.

Gonder and Lalibela are best places to be for Timket outside Addis Ababa. At Gonder the festival is held inside a 16 century castle known as King Fasiledes swimming pool.

In Gonder it is unique as the 44 tabots of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are shown in the same place. Whereas at Lalibela, the celebration is as colorful and picturesque as it is held at the top of the stunning church Bet Medhanialem.

On the second day, 18th January around noon, the priests carry the tabots back to the churches where they permanently settle. This is accompanied by a larger crowd than the previous day and the festival gets more colorful.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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