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 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!
This year, on Timkat eve, I watched the Tabot from my local church in Addis Ababa as it was paraded the 4 kilometres from the church – Yesus – behind the French Embassy, to the Jan Meda – the old Imperial racing fields. It was a colourful and joyful procession, with everyone very happy to see us enjoying their pageant.
The Tabot’s nearest equivalent is the tabernacle and is a replica of the tablets of stone, and is carried shrouded in brocaded cloth on the head of a senior priest underneath a colourfully decorated umbrella. It forms the central part of the parade, alongside icons and other beautifully dressed priests also with more colourful umbrellas. The priests are led by deacons all dressed in white playing the wonderful big drums, and choir groups from the church singing the Tabot down the hill. Others lay out a red carpet before the Tabot, a sign of the importance attached to theTabot. As it passes people prostrate themselves before the tabot kissing the ground.
Timkat is the festival which celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River, and is one of Ethiopia’s most important religious festivals. The word Timkat means baptism, but it is often confusingly translated as Ethiopian Epiphany. For more information on this see the page on festivals on our website.
Jan Meda becomes the centre of Addis Ababa over the Timkat holiday as more than a dozen Tabots converge on the walled field to spend the night there. On Timkat morning mass is said and then the blessed holy water in the baths at the centre of the filed are sprayed on the ecstatic congregation that is gathered around. Many also seek to fill bottles with this holy water to cure any number of ailments.
Then the Tabots are paraded back up to their churches again accompanied by the parishioners. Only one Tabot remains for a second night – that of Mikael, whose annual saints day is the following day – a day that also celebrates the wedding at Canaa – Kanna Zegelila in the Ethiopian Church. The Mikael Tabots are then paraded back up on their special saint’s day with even larger crowds of followers.
It is a joyful and happy three days, and one I would urge people to see. Tourists flock to the traditional historical centres: Lalibela, Gondar and Axum, resulting in overcrowding, shortage of rooms, high prices etc, but it is a wonderful sight in Addis Ababa, or at the Tesfa community sites sharing the day with the local villagers.