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!
Icon of St. Mikael
There are many big saints days in Hedar (Ethiopian month that runs from 10Nov – 9Dec) where certain churches will parade out their tabots with much dancing and celebration. One such is Hedar Mikael, St.Michael’s day on 21st November. On this coming Monday morning your nose will be the first to tell you of this holiday (unless you live very close to a Mikael church – in which case it will be your ears, reminded through the night), as the slightly acrid smell from thousands of bonfires wafts into your nose. The smell ives meaning to the slightly increased haze over the capital city this coming Monday morning.People light small fires burning up rubbish from their compound, believing the smoke clears away disease and sickness – a sort of purification.
Michael church in Lalibela
In Lalibela one of the main churches is dedicated to the archangel St.Michael. The church behind, known as Golgotha is the burial place for the Saint King Lalibela who built the amazing complex of rock hew churches in the place formally known as Roha, but now of course called Lalibela. Lalibela’s saints day is the same as Mikael and so al Mikael days are extra special in Lalibela.
Just over a week after Hedar Mikael is Tsion Mariam (St Mary of Zion): one of the big annual St. Mary days in the country and sees one of the most important Saint’s days celebrations in Axum. The church of Our Lady Mary of Zion (to give it it’s full name) is arguably Ethiopia’s most important church. It was one of the first churches built in Ethiopia back in the very early 4th century, and has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice with destruction inflicted by the armies of Queen Yodit and Mohammed Gragn.
Axum Mariam, built in the Gondarine style by Emperor Fasilidas
It was here that Emperors came to seek the coronation. If an Emperor was not coronated at Mariam Tsion or at least had a special ratification service they could not hold the title “Atse’.
Axum is booked out early each year for Tsion Mariam (30th November) with thousands of pilgrims descending on the town and spending the night at the ancient church. But the church
Ancient stones in the Church compound in Axum
compound is worth spending some time visiting if you can arrange a stay there at another time. There are stones on which is old Sabean script, that must have been sources from far older buildings. The church built by Emperor Fasilidas has lovely frescoes aside (though only men can enter here), and the trees are full of sun birds and other iridescent birds.
Be one of a few foreigners to witness this special saints day and follow it with walk in the mountains of Meket.
A painting of Saint-King Lalibela, on a canvas in Lalibela
St Mikael’s day in Lalibela and a Tesfa Trek in Meket
Come and visit Lalibela for Senay Mikael, the St Michael’s day celebrated on Sunday 19th June is one of the biggest saint’s days in Lalibela, with it also marking the anniversary of Saint-King Lalibela’s death. The Church of Mikael in Lalibela is connected to the church known as Golgotha where Lalibela himself is buried.
Only Gena (Ethiopian Christmas) is a bigger celebration in the town.
Fly in on Saturday and see the market – a day when the town is really buzzing, and visit the other churches. After the
Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela
processions and celebrations on Sunday morning head off to Meket to send a couple of days trekking in the mountains before coming back for a flight to Addis on Tuesday.
See details here – prices and tour itinerary
A Meket farmer enjoys the view
Icon of St. Mikael
As the sun peers through the thin veil of smoke and the chanting from the churches creates a murmuring sound through the city, sent forth on loud speakers, worshippers are heading to church, as is one of the big days of the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar. Today is known as Hedar Mikael or the November St. Michael’s day, and is the day that everyone sweeps up the rubbish in their compound and burns it. The fires are said to take the disease and sickness away with the smoke.
Great Ethiopian Run (curtesy of GER http://ethiopianrun.org/)
But as worshippers head off to church, some 20,000 runners are making there way to the centre of Addis Ababa to participate in Africa’s largest mass participation run. The Great Run as Addis Ababa’s 10km run is called, is also a highlight in the calendar for Addis Ababans, as the mass run becomes a running street party in green and yellow (the colour of this years shirt) for the 15th year in a row.
Today is Senay Mikael in Ethiopia (Senay being the month), and is one of the three big St.Michael’s days. The saints’s days come round every month (Mikael on the 12th of each month), but each church celebrates one or two and occasionally three big ‘annual days’. St.Michael’s big annual days are in Senay (now), Hedar (November) and Ter (January – this is the day after Timkat).
In the west Michaelmas was celebrated on 29th September and gave rise to the name of that autumn term in universities, and was one of the 4 days when quarterly rent payments were due.Things generally started a new at Michaelmas.
In Ethiopia the Senay 12 also marks the anniversary of the death of King and Saint Lalibela, and so in Lalibela itself today is very special as both Mikael and Lalibela’s tabots will be paraded out.
Entrance to Mikael & Golgotta in Lalibela
On 19th June Lalibela celebrates a big double festival, as it is both an annual day for St Mikael (Senay Mikael) and the anniversary of the death of the Saint-King Lalibela. This is the biggest celebration in Lalibela after Gena (Christmas) and attracts many Ethiopian pilgrims from the surrounding area to see the festival … but few tourists.
On the eve of the day itself, there will be singing and chanting around Bete Mikael & Golgotta (where the Saint-King is buried), and in the morning the two Tabots (Mikael and Lalibela) will be paraded out to a nearby tent with great pomp and celebration, and an hour or so after will return to the church.
Later on you should see the market – although it is a Friday there will be an especially big market that day in town, full of livestock and other local produce.
This is a day you should not miss!
Tesfa Tours are offering an all inclusive 4 day package for $700 USD per person (minimum group 2 people) including local flights (based on having local resident cards or national ID), transport, accommodation at the best hotel in town, entry fees & guides, AND two nights trekking in Meket with the local communities as your hosts. (Only excludes meals and drink in Lalibela, bottled drinks on the trek and personal expenses and gratuities etc). Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.