Category Archives: Addis

The Ethiopian New Year & the month Meskeram

Meskal flowers in Meket, North Wollo

September is a wonderful time in Ethiopia and particularly the Ethiopian month of Meskerem that runs from 11th September -10th October marking the beginning of the Ethiopian year. The countryside is lit up with the masses of bright yellow ‘Meskal’ daisies and more sunshine flickering through the rain clouds, and it brings with it all the promise of the new year.

However 2009 ends with that Ethiopian peculiarity, the 13th month or Pagumay. It is generally 5 days long, but on leap years it is 6 days. It works as a fill in with all other months being 30 days and 12 x 30 being 360, so it adds up the year to 365 days. There is one very special day in Pagume– St Rufael’s day which is on 3rd day of the month (8th Sept). If it rains on this day the rain is holy and blesses those it falls on.  A great day for dancing in the rain! St Rufael for those that did not know (and I had to look it up!) is an archangel coming 3rd in rank after St Michael and St Gabriel.

The Demara – the flames of the Meskal fire.

So what are the celebrations for New Year? It is of course not only a national holiday but a feast day and families will celebrate the New year together on the 11th – Enkutetash as the day is called. They will visit and be visited by close friends and relatives.

It is closely followed by Meskal which his celebrated across the country but most especially in parts of the south such as Gurage, Wolaita, and in the north in the town of Adigrat. Across the country bonfires – demara -are erected around a central pole that holds a cross and are decorated with the Meskal flowers. In Addis they are lit on the night before Meskal 26 Sep or Meskeram 16.  The big demara will be in Meskal Square but they are in every neighbourhood, roundabout and street corner. The fire is lit and goes up with much dancing and wielding of sticks and the direction which the cross falls is said to predict the success of that years harvest. Meskal day itself – the 27th is another public holiday, and families will again celebrate with a feast at home.

Stick Dancing in Meket

Meskal (itself means cross) is a ceremony that commemorates the Finding of the True Cross. Legend has it that in 326 AD, Queen Eleni (Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great) was guided by a dream to light a fire and follow the smoke to find the True Cross. The smoke rose high in the sky and descended at the point where she found the Cross. Many think that Meskal marks the end of the rainy season, well not quite, but its true the rains get less frequent, the flowers are in full bloom and the promise of a new harvest is seen around the country. But don’t put away your rain clothes, for the end of the rainy season – as per the old time calendar – is Meskeram 25th, or 5th October.

If you want to know in advance of the holidays coming up and the workings of the Ethiopian calendar then why not pick up a Tesfa Calendar from Tesfa Tours. It starts on 1st Sep 2017 and runs til 31stAug 2018. it has Saints days, fasts, Ethiopian dates and a wealth of other information set into the western calendar, with wonderful photographs from the Tesfa Village treks across the country – which will make you want to get out of Addis and explore this beautiful country.  Please contact calendars@tesfatours.com or tel 011 124 5178 to get your copy.

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Ethiopia prepares for Timkat

Flags put up on the streets of Addis in preparation for the Timkat processions on 18th - 20th Jan

Flags put up on the streets of Addis in preparation for the Timkat processions on 18th – 20th Jan

Preparations are underway for one festival that seems to encapsulate Ethiopia’s unique place in the world: it is Timkat – or ‘Baptism’. It is frequently referred to as Epiphany, which undersells what is a very special and Ethiopian day. In fact it is really spread over 2 or 3 days. And it start tomorrow- Wed 18th Jan (Ter 10).

The programme:   In Addis the Tabot will leave the churches at around 2pm with a big procession, singing of hymns and chants, drumming, horns being blown and dancing to the chants. Icons are processed and most especially the tabots wrapped in brocaded cloth carried on the heads of the high priests under umbrellas. The procession will makes its way over several hours to the special resting point for the tabots. In north eastern Addis Ababa this is Jan Meda (

A Tabot  being paraded

A Tabot being paraded for Timkat

the Royal horse racing fields). At Jan Meda about a dozen tabots spend the night with tents for shelter, and priests and devoted followers. The fields become the centre of the festival for the evening and next day, and for St Mikael Tabots  the next day too. Tens of thousands of people will gather at the fields in the evening, hundreds sell refreshments and nicknacks. The roads around are packed solid.

During the processions roads are closed across the city (and the country) and no cars can pass. Houses beside the route the tabots pass are blessed. Young lads lay down carpets on the road infant off the taboo. They rapidly rolls them up behind and run them round to the front again, extreme hard work and a devotion that illustrates how deep seated are the beliefs and culture of the Orthodox church even in the capital city.

Where to see it?  Head to your nearest Orthodox church, and plan to be there by 2pm. Then you can join in the procession to the fields. Don’t be worried by the crowds, everyone is joyful and will be happy to see you, but do show respect for the priests and the Tabots, dress appropriately (women should cover heads and neither men nor women should wear short clothing – if you have traditional white cotton clothes all the better).  At the convergence points of the tabots thee could be pick pockets at work so be careful of possessions and do not carry unnecessary valuables.

See tomorrow for details of the rest of Timkat!  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas is coming .. in Ethiopia

Melkam Gena / Happy Christmas

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

Christmas is coming and sheep is for the pot.
Onions need cutting and enjara pan is hot.
If you can’t afford a sheep a chicken will do.
If you can’t afford a chicken then God bless you.

This adaptation tells a few home truths about festivals in Ethiopia such as Gena:
mountains of onions are peeled, chopped fine and put in the pot. Enjara bread (pancakes) is baked on the eve of Gena with a big pile ready for the feast. People using electricity in the cities are nervous of power cuts or low power meaning the pan does not

Chickens for sale on street corners

Chickens for sale on street corners

get hot enough. And after the long fast that precedes Gena, everyone wants to eat meat. Best is to buy a sheep, but prices of sheep ahead of festivals has soared in recent years. A small sheep would not cost over $100 USD, for many that is a months salary or more. But a Doro wot- spicy chicken stew – is a favourite for the holiday. Yet even a chicken would cost around $10-15USD. So there are many families who will not be able to afford a chicken this holiday.

In most of Europe and the West, Christmas is the big family day, with presents, special foods, traditions to be followed. For many they will go to church and remember that it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for many more it has become a feast of consumerism and consumption.

In the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the traditional church in Ethiopia and the one that forms the framework of much of the culture of the country, there are several very important festivals throughout the year: Easter, Christmas, Timkat (the celebration of the baptism of Christ) and Meskal being the most important. Add to this new Year, which falls on 11th September in most years, and is very important to many although it is less of a religious day, and you can see that there are a good number of festivals through the year.

Bale Wold church in Addis, crowds gather to see the Tabot

Bale Wold church in Addis, crowds gather to see the Tabot on Gena/ Christmas day.

Feasting is part of all these holidays. It is also family time, with people returning to their mother’s home to enjoy real home cooking. Church is often attended during the night on the eve of the holiday, although with days like Timkat the church procession is a big part of the day’s events.

So where should you go to see Gena?  If you attend any Orthodox church the night before you will witness the service and the mass. In Addis the church of Bale Wold by Selassie celebrates

Gena ceremony in Lalibela

Gena ceremony in Lalibela, the most famous place to spend Christmas in Ethiopia.

Christmas on Christmas morning.  If you have Ethiopian friends they will undoubtably invite you round to partake in the feast. Do bring round gifts of food: coffee, biscuits, fruit, cake, bottle of wine and the like are all acceptable presents.

Gena is most famous in Lalibela. But if you have not booked it you are too late. Accommodation fills up, (so there will be no room at the inn) and flights become full.  Hotels and guides inflate their usual fees, so in addition it does become expensive.

 

 

 

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