Tonight is the eve of Meskal day, a night which more than any other is the bonfire night. Bonfires ‘demera‘ are being prepared, beautifully decorated with the yellow Meskal daisy on every street corner in Addis, and throughout the Orthodox parts of the country. The smell of smoke and sound of the celebrations will be everywhere in the capital in the coming hours
Best wishes to all on this holiday tomorrow – and a happy bonfire night tonight.
But what are the origins of this festival that is often translated as: ‘The finding of the true Cross.’ It is told that in the 4th Century, Queen Eleni (or St. Helena) was instructed in a dream to light a bonfire and that the smoke would lead her to find the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified.
She followed the instructions, added frankincense to the huge fire and the smoke that went skywards came back down showing the spot where she found the cross. It was at Amba Gishen , a cross shaped amba – or plateau – in the mountains of South Wollo. This is now the location of a church called Gishen Mariam with its huge day on a Mariam day that falls right at the start of October, and is one of the biggest pilgrimage sites in Ethiopia.
However in many parts of Ethiopia (particularly in the south, but also in Adigrat in Tigray) Meskal is a huge festival that starts many days before the day itself, suggesting that there maybe some other older festivity with which Meskal has since been linked.