Category Archives: bonfire

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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Melcam Meskal

A Meskal Demera (bonfire) built by locals in Addis

A Meskal Demera (bonfire) built by locals in Addis

Today is the eve of Meskal, and Addis Ababa has bonfires growing on street corners and roundabouts all over the city, with long bundles of sticks, huge bunches of bright yellow Meskal daisies and of bright green grass for sale. The Meskal daisy is the image most associated with the holiday, as it grows wild across meadows and grasslands throughout the highlands of Ethiopia.

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

decorations around Addis

decorations around Addis

and descended at the point where she found the Cross.

Across Ethiopia tonight (and for some tomorrow) bonfires will be lit commemorating this event. There are various traditions which include the prediction as to the harvest by the direction in which the cross in the fire falls. Also people mark their foreheads in the sign of the cross with the ash from the fire.

The festival is also connected with the relic of the cross that was reputedly found at Gishen Amba, a cross shaped mountain in Wollo, where the church of Gishen

A small Meskal bonfire at Kebena, dropped in the Ethiopian flag, with a cross on the top.

A small Meskal bonfire at Kebena, dropped in the Ethiopian flag, with a cross on the top.

Mariam celebrated a major pilgrimage and festival just after Meskal each year.

A good place to join in the Meskal celebrations is with the villages on the Tesfa Treks in Wollo and Tigray. In Adigrat (Tigray) and in the villages around there is a very big Meskal celebration.

Best wishes to all for a peaceful and fun Meskal demera tonight and a joyful holiday tomorrow.

 

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