Exclusive to Ethiopia, Meskel is a religious annual colorful carnival celebrated for two days beginning September 27th. It is one of the major festivals celebrated by local Christians for more than 1600 years. The celebration follows Enkutatash ”a gift of jewel to your finger” which marks the Ethiopian New Year based on the Coptic calendar of Julian calculation which created eight-year gap between Ethiopian calendar and that of the world which follows the Gregorian calendar. Meskel marks the brightest sunny weather at the end of the two months rainy season. The festival includes dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire.
The holiday is based on the belief that happened around 330 AD, when Queen Helena (known in Ethiopia as Nigist Eleni) mother of Rome’s first emperor, Constantine found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. In accordance with a revelation she had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. According to the legend the smoke in her dreams rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross had been buried. Fragments of the cross were distributed to churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it is now said to be kept at Gishen Mariam, about 70 kilometers northwest of Dessie town.
The eve of Meskelstarts with countless people dressed in sparkling white clothing gathering at Meskel Square named after the event, to watch the ceremonial lighting of fire, pray and worship. Ethiopians from across the country and visitors from around the world carry yellow daisies, wooden crosses and wax candles as the pile of wood burns down to the pavement. This country wide celebration marks the arrival of full day sun which is represented by daisies bright yellow blossoms that flourish across the country. The festival is also celebrated with traditional special dishes of food and drinks.
Do not miss out on the evening breathtaking eve ceremony Demera (bonfires) topped by daisies and crosses. The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church orchestrates the lighting ceremony. After the bonfires are lit, singing begins around them until the entire fire becomes ashes. Believers mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross using ashes from the fire to symbolize the cross. Priests, worship teams and the public in ritual clothing sing around the bonfire. Smaller bonfires are also lit throughout the country in backyards and on street corners of villagers as they continue to celebrate throughout the night.
The bonfires splinters from the bundles of burning wood has significance whereby eastern fall out represents peace and prosperity. During the closing of the Demera, rain is expected to fall to help put the fire out. If the rain falls and the fire is extinguished, there is a belief that the year will be prosperous. This colorful stunning festival is celebrated in huge gatherings and fabulous ceremonies at the famous Meskel Square at the capital Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Gonder, Axum and Lalibela.
The big festivity kicks off on the eve by seeing off the old year and preparing special dishes. The first day of the New Year begins with the coming together of families gathering for thanksgiving and welcoming the New Year. The festival also includes putting on special clothes. On the day women adorn themselves with bright hued vestments called yehabeshakemis accentuated with gold and silver necklaces and earrings while the men sumptuously get attired with a white costume called yehagerlibse.
The celebration is followed with ornate coffee and food serving ceremony at a large get-together of family and friends. A woman, dressed in white traditional costume, conducts a coffee ceremony. The long ceremony begins with the ceremonial apparatus - sinny (ceramic cups) jebena (a clay pot) being arranged in columns upon arekobot (traditional wooden tray) and scattered freshly cut grass on the floor. It is a big part of the day to slaughter a sheep, a goat and a chicken that will serve to parade a wide array of mouth -watering dishes to be enjoyed with several family members, guests and neighbours. Some prefer to slaughter ox and share the meat with people to indicate friendship and togetherness.