Category Archives: festival

Crosses, Thanksgiving and Fasts

Cross shaped Amba at Gishen Mariam

In Ethiopia, October kicks off with big celebrations. This Sunday (1st October) is Meskerem 21, is one of the biggest Mariam days in the year, commonly called Gishen Mariam after a church in Wollo, not far from Dessie on a cross shaped Amba properly called Gishen Debre Kerbe which holds its annual saint’s day on this date.

There are reportedly documents at Gishen that state that Emperor Zara Yaqob (who reigned in the mid 15th century), bought a piece of the “True Cross’ on which Jesus was crucified and buried it at Gishen Debre Kerbe under the church of Egyziabher Ab (Literally God the Father). There are in fact four churches on Gishen Debre Kerbe: Egyziabher Ab, Gishen Mariam, Kidus Gabriel and Kidus Mikael (Kidus is Saint). Gishen Mariam is one of the biggest pilgrimages in Ethiopia with thousands of pilgrims making their way up the narrow mountain paths to celebrate this day at the end of the rainy season.

Celebrations in 1903 at Lake Hora

Sunday 1st of October is also the culmination of the Oromo festival of Ireeycha Birra, a thanksgiving ceremony most famously celebrated beside Lake Arsadi outside of Bishoftu some 50 km south east from Addis Ababa. This day is actually the climax and most important day of several weeks of celebration. Thousands of Oromo people descend on the town and lake from across the region.

The celebration marks the end of the rainy season and the Oromo people give thanks to God for his bounty and pray for peace and reconciliation among humans and with God. The festival is led by the elders or wise men known as haayyuu who lead the blessings by the lake and make speeches. Tragically last year there was a large loss of life at this festival.

Coptic Icon depicting Holy Family fleeing to Egypt

For those new to Ethiopia you may not be aware that the year is punctuated by fasts of varying length and importance. Each Wednesday and Friday is a fasting day, except for a month or so following Easter when people will have been fasting for 55 days in the run up to Easter. A fast implies that people eat one meal a day in the afternoon or early evening and follow a strictly vegan diet (although many do still each fish which used to be accepted but not so much these days).

On 6th October the Tsige Tsom (fast) starts and runs for 40 days through to 15th November Kusquam Mariam day and it marks the exile of the Holy Family when they fled their land and took refuge in Egypt to be away from King Herod and his slaughter of infants. It ends on the day that commemorates Kusquam, a village in upper Egypt where the holy family were said to have lived during their exile in Egypt. This fast is however considered optional and only clergy are required to fast, but never the less most establishments will serve vegan options throughout this fast.

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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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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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Eid Mubarek

 

Eid Al Aha, Mnt Arafat AFP Image

Eid Al Aha, Mnt Arafat – see BBC article

Today is Eid Al Adha, the festival of Sacrifice, commemorating Ibrahim/Abraham’s willingness to Sacrifice his son. It marks the end of the Hadj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca).

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37331826

This year it comes one day after the New Year holiday in Ethiopia.

There is a long tradition of intermingling of the faiths in Ethiopia. Maybe it dates to the early years of Islam when persecuted followers of new faith took refuge in Ethiopia (referred to as the First Hijra or Migration). Upon hearing their beliefs the Ethiopian king agreed to give them refuge. As a result Ethiopia holds a special place in the history of Islam.

Eid Mubarak to all celebrating the festival of sacrifice today.

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Come & join the Timkat celebration in a Village in Ethiopia

The community at Mequat Mariam parade the Tabot out at TImkat with Ethiopian flags flying

The community at Mequat Mariam parade the Tabot out at Timkat

If you are still unsure what to do next week over Timkat why not come and celebrate with one of the villages on a Tesfa trek.

Timkat is probably the most colourful festival in Ethiopia. Its a magical celebration linked to one of the oldest festival in the Christian – Epiphany. But in the Eastern (Orthodox) churches – Epiphany celebrated the baptism of Christ not the visit of the Magi (as in the western Church). In fact the word Timkat means ‘baptism’.  Epiphany itself refers to the manifestation of Christ’s divinity, and in the original church it celebrated the various points in Christ’s life where his divinity was shown: his nativity (this was before Christmas was celebrated), the visit of the Magi, Christ’s miracles (especially at the wedding in Cana), and his baptism in the Jordan river.

The village at Wajela celebrate Timkat with dancing and singing

The village at Wajela celebrate Timkat with dancing and singing

Timkat in Ethiopia is effectively a 3 day event although only the second day is the holiday and is Timkat. The celebrations start on the eve which this year is 19th January (Ter 10 in the Ethiopian calendar). The Tabots are paraded with colour, dance and singing out of their church compounds and off on a route to what is normally an attractive place if possible by a water source. On arrival the tabot is set up with a tent and the church community will stay with the tabot, some for the night. On the day of Timkat there is a mass before the water source is blessed and with wonderful joy the water is splashed on the onlookers and as much as possible some is collected to be taken home as a holy water.

After this celebration the tabots are taken back to their church with renewed joy and celebration, passing by a different route to bless those whose farms or houses it passes. All tabots except for Mikael tabots, who spend another day camping out as Ter 12 is St Michaels day (Mikael) and interestingly commemorates the wedding in Cana – (Cana Ze Galila). The Mikael day is also very big and the processions are bigger as many of those who attended the previous two days celebrations now come together for Mikael. In some places horses, decorated in colourful pompoms have horse races while the procession goes on.

There is no better day to feel the religious fervour and the deeply held beliefs in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Whether you witness this in the streets of Addis or in the remote mountains on a Tesfa Trek you will be struck by the passion it arouses in the followers of the church and by the feeling that this is biblical, out of the old testament harking back to King David’s processing of the Ark of Covenant in Jerusalem.

 

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Gabriel day in Addis

St Gabriel's day in Addis Ababa

St Gabriel’s day in Addis Ababa

Yesterday’s St. Gabriel’s day is one of the biggest saint’s days in the Ethiopian Calendar. The holy Tabot is paraded around the church as thousands of worshipers attend services at the Gabriel church in the city centre (behind the palace above Cassanchis).The roads leading to the church are closed to traffic.

Most women will wear traditional white cotton dresses and shawls and men will where a Gabi – a white cotton blanket – over their clothes. Back at home grass will be laid out over the floor for a coffee ceremony, incense will be burned and special home baked traditional bread will be shared out.

Addis Ababa might be modernising at a fast and furious rate, but the old traditions remain in place.

PS – note the leaning building in the photo. If you look closely you will see that they could not decide whether the windows should conform to the lean or be horizontal! Its a strange one for sure…

 

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Kulubi Gabriel

Today – 29th December (Tahsas 19 in the Ethiopian calendar) is one of the two big annual Gabriel festivals (the other one comes on 28 July), and is the culmination of one of the biggest pilgrimages in Ethiopia.

Kulubi is a small place some 60km from Dire Dawa, but today tens of thousands of pilgrims will have converged on the St Gabriel’s church there, many walking for days to get there.

The joint churches of Gabriel & Rufael in Lalibela

The joint churches of Gabriel & Rufael in Lalibela

But all across Ethiopia, today is a huge celebration at every Gabriel church. Whether in Addis Ababa, in Lalibela, or on a Tesfa community trek in a village where a church has a Gabriel Tabot, there will be special celebrations.

Enjoy today!

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Giyorgis festival in Meket

IMG_3861.JPG

  The festival is called Sebar-atsemu Giyorgis – and commemorates the day that St George’s bones were ground into dust. I decided to visit one of the Tesfa communities in Meket whose parish is St.George and where it is the big annual festival. So we went to Aina Amba Giyorgis on 26th January, the eve of the festival.

IMG_3906.JPGAina Amba is in a stunning location, and the community cooked us a lovely dinner on  the night before.

IMG_3953.JPG Next morning the crowds began to gather, and soon after 9am the Tabot was paraded out of the church carried by priests in colourful robes under brocade umbrellas. The crowd emerged from the wooded compound before emerging out onto the dry dusty grazing land below the church and with the tabot and priests in their midst accompanied it to its camp in a colourful tent nearby.

This was the signal for groups to start dancing and singing to the beat of the marvellous kabero drums. The dancing is an aggressive dance, with shoulders seemingly dislocated from the body jerking up and down to the drum’s beat.

IMG_3958.JPGAfter some hours the Tabot emerged from its tent and was again paraded as it slowly made its way up to the church, but this time with horses galloping around the procession. Now everyone was there, old men carrying older muskets, younger people from the nearby town, important people with colourful umbrellas, bit most in the traditional white cotton shawls.

IMG_4056.JPG At a given point the procession stopped and a series of wild horse races took place to honour the tabot. This is referred to as gooks, although there is no spear throwing as further south. The  horses are wonderfully decorated with bright pompoms and colourful saddle cloths and the riders, three or four at a time, gallop up the fields, often without holding on.

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