Meskel on Sep 26 and 27

ethiopia meskel festivalMeskel is an Amharic word meaning cross. This festival is held in September which is the end of the main rainy season and when the whole field is much greener, the sky gets clearer, and weather is nicer than before.

It is a time when the widely populated eucalyptus trees offer their scent, the Meskel daises (they are found only in Ethiopia) sprout on the massif fields; streams filled with plenty of water to satisfy the ground; people be in a fresh and excited mood with positive expectations of the just New Year.

Meskel is a colorful festival celebrated on Sep 27 among the Ethiopian Orthodox Church followers for the past 1600 years. It is a religious festival celebrated in a festive spirit where prayers, praises, and dances take places accompanied by food and drinks.

The most important day is the eve’s afternoon. It is the day when priests wear their best regalia, show to the public the most sacred church crosses, church choirs wear their colorfully designed dresses, people seen in a festive mood and in their beautiful attires all heading to where the bonfire is to be lit.

The practice is the same throughout the country among the Ethiopian Orthodox Church followers. On the night of the eve people gather in their nearby churches where there is a bonfire waiting to be lit until it is turned into ashes. The bonfire is considered to be a sacred sacrifice after being blessed by the bishop of the respective church.

Addis Ababa is the best place to join the festival where it is held at a square named after the festival itself, Meskel Square. This square is a massive field situated in the city center.

People as many as 300,000 gather in this place among them several dignitaries, tourists, photographers, etc will also attend. And the bonfire is erected at the center where everyone will be able to see it. After the prayers and songs, the Patriarch is the most important guest blesses and throws the first torch to burn the huge bonfire.

The festival doesn’t end in a church or at Meskel square. Once the occasion in the church is done, people repeat the same in their neighborhoods.

Here priests won’t be needed to light the smaller bonfires in the neighborhoods. An eldest man in the house would be enough to start the fire as he is followed by the rest of family members.

This tradition refers to some 1600 years back at the time of Queen Elena, mother of the Constantine.  According to the legend, the queen was searching for the original cross on which Christ was crucified.

After a long search that took her years, she was divinely guided and located to a mountain of dirt and rubbles where it was buried under. When the queen unearthed the cross, there appears a huge light over the sky.  This is how the Ethiopian bonfire is connected to the story of the discovery of the cross several hundred years back.

The timing, September, is also a factor that makes the festival an important one. September is the first month of Ethiopian calendar, a month which people use every opportunity to exchange their good wishes trying to symbolize and interpret things for good lucks, good days ahead of prosperity, peace, and health.

This is reflected in their songs, in the cut and spread of green grass, in the beautiful flowers of meskel daises, and even in the direction where the bonfire to fall to once it is burned.

Meskel is exotic and is celebrated only in Ethiopia and only once in a year. It is Ethiopia’s treasure that it wants to share to the rest of the world. Why don’t experience this wonderful event for yourself?

We have so many others that I will write in the coming weeks.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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