Category Archives: rain

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 or tel 011 124 5178 to get your copy.

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Rufael and Pagume

Today is the big annual Rufael (Raphael) day -one of the archangels and the protector of pregnant women in the Ethiopian Church! The rain that fell heavily this morning is taken as a blessed and holy rain – and it is a well received blessing.

The pages for each month - showing all the holidays and both dates

September with Pagume shown

Rufael falls on the 3rd day of Pagume which is the 13th month or more properly the period of added days that adds the extra days (5 or 6 in a leap year) needed if the 12 months are all 30 days (as are the Ethiopian months). This year is a leap year with the extra 6th day in Pagume as you can see on the Tesfa Tours calendar shown below. And off course the next day is Enkutatash. One of the biggest holidays – New Years Day.

Let pray for plenty more rain from now into the first part of the New Year in Ethiopia.

Rain clouds in Addis

Rain clouds in Addis

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The rainy season in Addis

Rain in Tigray“A veritable monsoon!” Is how I often describe it, and it is. Its cause is the same weather patterns that cause the monsoon to sweep up through India – monsoon is the Indian word for their rainy season and kremt is the Amharic word.

And rather like the monsoon in India it does not rain all day, but rather heavy downpours roll through, skies darken, the wind picks up and torrential rain, often with hail follows. Later on or next morning the skies are clear and the sun shines brightly for some hours.  Its not a bad time to be in Addis or in Ethiopia. Pack an umbrella, put on the some boots, and head off to explore. If your visiting, just be ready to dive into a coffee shop and sit out the rain.

This year in Addis the Kremt is giving us a lot of sun and glorious weather, with much of the rain in the night. This is worrying, as the rain that comes to Addis is far more than the rain that goes to many other regions of Ethiopia, all of which depend on the Kremt to start off their crops, allow the meadows to grow hay, refill the water table so springs are replenished, refill reservoirs to generate electricity. If the rains intensify now that would be good, and they need to be strong through into late September. The official date for the end of the Kremt is Meskerem 25th which this year falls on 6th October, but already by the Meskal holiday (Meskerem 17 or 28th September) the rains will usually become far less frequent and the signs will be there that the dry season is coming.

A reminder for anyone looking to do some trekking. Tigray is fantastic for walking at this time of year. It does not rain much there, mostly at night, and the sun will be out in the morning. Let us know if you would like to make a trek and we can organise it.


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Should I visit Ethiopia while there is a drought?

As various agencies are reporting a drought in Ethiopia and the horn of Africa, with million Ethiopians in need of emergency assistance, I thought it could be useful to answer some of the questions people frequently ask us.

Is there drought all over Ethiopia?

No it is mainly in areas to the east of the country – lowland pastoralist areas for the most part.

Is there food available in Ethiopia?

YES. Ethiopia produces grows many crops and has a vast number of livestock. Food is available.

The real hardship is caused by the economic effect of drought. Those suffering from the loss of agricultural production and loss of livestock are unable to afford to buy food from the market. It may well be that there is food around in the country, but it has to be paid for and those with nothing to sell have no means to buy anything.

What will it be like in the Tesfa Trekking areas?

In Tigray and North Wollo there has been good rain this year. Some of the trekking areas plant a crop with a rain called the Belge (or short rains)t hat typically falls between February and April. This year the Belge was good (it is intermittent rain over the months). The main rains – called the Kremt have started across the north of the country (including the areas around Addis) and predictions seem quite good, although there are predictions of floods.

How can one part of Ethiopia suffer drought and another receive rains?

Ethiopia is a vast country with a high plateau in the north west with Africa’s highest agricultural lands, and lowlands to the north east reaching below sea level. The south east is continuous with Somalia and has the Somali climate not the highland Ethiopian one, and the south west runs into northern Kenya and South Sudan and has a more similar climate to those countries near the Ethiopian border, although the highlands continue far to the west and in parts to the south.

If some parts of Ethiopia have a good harvest can food be transferred to areas of drought?

In fact this is done by a number of agencies. They buy food from surplus areas for distribution in areas facing a shortage. However help is still needed to do this. The food is bought from poor farmers (through market networks) who need to receive payment. The Ethiopian government can not underwrite these costs so foreign support is needed – hence the appeals that are made by the World Food Programme and others.

Should I still come and visit Ethiopia?

YES! You will have a wonderful trip in the north, and you will be spending your money with local Ethiopians, supporting them and their families. Your trip is important to the country’s economy and to the well-being of the communities with whom you spend your time. You will not be faced with images of famine and drought, but in fact of a thriving rural economy in highland Ethiopia.

I hope this helps put the tragic news of suffering in perspective. It is not meant to belittle the problems in the south and east of Ethiopia, but to help people understand the size and complexity of Ethiopia, and to realise that coming here will be a positive move for the visitor and the host.

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