Ethiopia is a holy land home to a vast and diversified people of varies cultures, traditions and customs profoundly cherishing and devoting their time to their respective religions. In relation to Ethiopian’s religions and beliefs there are several festivals celebrated throughout the Ethiopian calendar (Ethiopia has a different calendar than the West) in a bright and sacred manner. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church holidays and cultural events are very famous and sacred. Being a part of these ceremonies leave you with a heightened feeling of having a genuine connection with your religion. The celebrations of these holidays are one of the reasons Ethiopia is famous for. During these cultural events it is customary for most of the people to dress in traditional Ethiopian clothing. The following are among the most famous Ethiopian festivals celebrated.
The word actually means “Cross” and the feast commemorates the discovery of the true cross by the Empress Helena, (the mother of Constantine the great), on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The original event took place on 19 March, A.D. 326, but the feast is now celebrated on 28th September.
It also signifies the physical presence of the true Cross at the remote mountain monastery of Gishen Mariam located in the Welo region. During this time of year, vast bonfires are lit countrywide the night before the celebration, and on the day itself everyone dances and feasts. This festival also coincides with the mass blooming of the golden yellow meskel daisies called Adey Abeba in Amharic. People of all ages are seen in the streets carrying fresh bunches of these yellow flowers.
Timkat is the greatest festival of the year, falling on 19 January, just two weeks after the Ethiopian Christmas. It is commemorates Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The next day is devoted to the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. From the end of the rains in October, the country becomes increasingly dry and the sun blazes down from a clear blue sky, so the festival of Timkat always takes place in glorious weather.
Enormous effort is put into the occasion. Tej and tella (Ethiopian local drinks) are brewed, special bread is baked, gifts are prepared for the children and new clothes purchased or old clothes mended and laundered. Everyone, men and women and children appear resplendent for the three-day celebration.
Dressed in dazzling white traditional dress, the locals provide a dramatic contrast to the jewel colours of the ceremonial velvet of the priests’ robes and sequined velvet umbrellas. On the eve of 18th January, the priests remove the Tabot from each church and bless the pools or rivers where, in the next few days, the celebration will take place.
Christmas (Gena) in Lalibela is beautiful; it is colorfully celebrated because King Lalibela was born in the same day of as the birth of Jesus Christ. Starting two weeks ahead of Gena, numerous peoples from every corner of the country undertake the pilgrimage to Lalibela to attend the ceremony and to get spiritual blessings. The number of foreign tourists is also unusually high at this time. During the official day of the feast, a most impressive religious service is carried out at the church of Bet Maryam and in its courtyard. Above all, what make the Gena ceremony unique in Lalibela are the dancing priests, chanting the hymns of this holy day to commemorate the birth Day of Jesus Christ. The special hymn of the day is known as Beza Kullu (literally meaning The Redeemer of All). Dancers, systra in their hands, sing the hymns of the holiday, swaying all together from north to south to the rhythm of the big drums. The dance is said to symbolize the praise made by the angels and shepherds on the night of Christmas. The chanters above the courtyard represent the angels of the heaven and those at the bottom symbolize the shepherds of Bethlehem.
Fasika (Easter) is celebrated after 55 days of severe Lent fasting (Hudade or Abye Tsome). According to Orthodox Tewahedo, Christians do not eat meat and or dairy products for the whole 55 days. Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit and variations of vegetable stew accompanied by enjera and/or bread are only eaten on these days. The first meal of the day is taken after 3 pm (9 o’clock in the afternoon Ethiopian time) during the fasting days, except Saturdays and Sundays, where a meal is allowed after the morning service.
On Easter eve people go to church and celebrate with candles, which are lit during a colorful Easter mass that begins at about 6 pm (12 o’clock in the evening Ethiopian time) and ends at about 2 am (8 o’clock after mid-night Ethiopian time). Everyone goes home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb, slaughtered the previous night after 6 pm, accompanied by enjera and traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Like Christmas, Easter is also a day of family re-union, an expression of goodness.
Enkutatash, which means “Gift of Jewels” is the celebration of the Ethiopian New Year. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of 13 months – 12 months each with 30 days and a final month with 5 days (6 days in leap year). The Julian calendar is 7 years and 8 months behind the Gregorian calendar, which is used throughout most of the Western world. In 2007 (Gregorian calendar), Ethiopia rang in the year 2000 and the new Ethiopian Millennium with colorful celebrations throughout the country Enkutatash happens to come near the end of a long rainy season, coloring the green landscapes with bright yellow flowers (called the Meskel Flower, or adei abeba in Amharic) and giving great reason to celebrate the new harvest. Torches of dry wood are burned in front of houses on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, girls dressed in new clothes go door-to-door singing songs. Families and friends celebrate together with large feasts.
This day also happens to coincide with the saint’s day of St. John the Baptist. This religious ceremony can be seen at the Kostete Yohannes church in the village of Gaynt, where celebrations are carried out for three days. Just outside of Addis Ababa, on the Entoto Mountain, Raguel Church has the largest religious celebration in the country.
Ashendye is a unique traditional festival which takes place in august to make the ending fasting called Filseta. This event is mostly for girls and young women, which they await very eagerly every year. The name of the festival ‘Ashendye’ comes from the name of a tall grass that the girls make in to a skirt and it around their waist as a decoration. The young women and girls dress the best traditional dresses called tifitef which is a cotton dress decorated with amazing embroidery from the neck to toe in front of the dress. The girls also adored themselves with array of beautiful jewellery. After the gather in the village or city centaur they divided in to small groups and they start from church and they go house to house singing and playing their drums. Thy stop at every house and sing and dance for the people in the house. It is customary for people to give them money, food and drinks and other items for their efforts. They continue the whole day going from house to house and occasionally stooping in a village or city centaur and singing and dancing for a while before they go on again on their tour.