Ethiopia is often described as the land of God and mystery. Ethiopia uniquely remained with her original name, territorial integrity, national unity and her Christian faith. There are numerous sacred places in Ethiopia – churches, monasteries, sites for religious festivals and holy water. All these highly Christian venerated places began with the first St. Mary Church of Zion. Ethiopia is a land where religion plays such an important part in many people’s lifestyles, so the numerous annual festivals and ceremonies provide many high points to the Ethiopian Calendar.
ETHIOPIAN NEW YEAR (ENKUTATASH)
Ethiopia has its own calendar in which the year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of 5 days and 6 days in leap year. The Ethiopian calendar is 8 years behind the Gregorian calendar from January to September and 7 years behind between September 11 and January 8.
Enkutatash means the “gift of jewels”. When the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her bolts by replenishing her treasury with inku or jewels. The spring festival has been celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside.
MESKEL (FINDING OF THE TRUE CROSS)
Meskal is second in importance only to Timkat and has been celebrated in the country for over 1,600 years. The word actually means “cross” and the feast commemorates the discovery of the Cross–upon which Jesus was crucified–by the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The original event took place on 19 March, AD 326, but the feast is now celebrated on 27 September.
GREAT ETHIOPIAN RUN
The Great Ethiopian Run (Amharic: ታላቁ ሩጫ በኢትዮጵያ) is an annual 10-kilometre road running event which takes place in late November in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The competition was first envisioned by neighbor’s Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie, Peter Middlebrook and Abi Masefield in late October 2000, following Haile’s return from the 2000 Summer Olympics. The 10,000 entries for the first edition quickly sold out and other people unofficially joined in the race without a number. The creation of the race marked the first time that a major annual 10 km race had been held in the country, renowned for producing world class runners. The day’s events include an international and popular 10 km race and a 5 km women only race.
From around 200 BC to 700 AD, Axum was the seat of an Empire which extended across the Red Sea to Arabia, traded with India and China, had its own alphabet and constructed great engineering works. In the 4th century Axum was considered to be one of the four great powers of the ancient world. The Mariam Tsion church in Axum is said to house of the Ark of the Covenant. The ceremony at Mariam Tsion sees pilgrims from all over the country come to express thanks after the fulfillment of a wish, or in the hope of miraculous cure.
ETHIOPIAN CHRISTMAS (GENNA)
Year after year Christians recall the story of the Christ child in a manger, shepherds on Judean hills witnessing the celestial song of angels as they pronounced the Long Expected One had come.
Celebrated on January 7th and preceded by a fast of 40 days, on the eve of Christmas people gather in churches for mass that lasts about 3 hours. The clergy and “Debtera” (scholars versed in liturgy and music of the church) lift their voices in hymns and chant just as it has been for over a thousand years when Ethiopia accepted Christianity.
Timket or Feast of Epiphany is the greatest festival of the year. Less than two weeks after Christmas, Timket is celebrated colorfully with profound enchantment to express faith and respect for the day on which Jesus Christ was baptizes by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Ethiopian Christians celebrate this festival of high religious and cultural significance with a view that Christ was baptized not for his sins, but to set on examples that we too would be baptized.
EASTER AND THE HOLY WEEK
Fasika (Easter) is celebrated after 55 days severe Lent fasting (Hudade or Abye Tsome). Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and dairy products for the whole 55 days. Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit and varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by injera and/or bread are only eaten on these days. The fist 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.
HOSANNA PALM SUNDAY
The Sunday before Easter is the Feast of Hosanna or known as Palm Sunday. It commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ with his disciples into Jerusalem. People welcomed Jesus by spreading palm branches. Axum has a colorful procession for Hosanna which is worth a visit.
BUHE TRANSFIGURATION FEAST
Buhe commemorates the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor. After the mass, people of the neighbourhood tie a bundle of sticks together to make a chibo (stick bundle) are burned with participants singing, similar to Meskel.
Ashendye is festival celebrated in August in the Amahara and Tigray region of Ethiopia. Ashendye marks the end of a two-week-long fast known as Filseta (tome Filseta) when adherents of Ethiopian orthodox Tewahedo church gather to honour the Virgin Mary.
EID AL FITR (End of Ramadan)
The fast of Ramadan is broken with special prayers and festivities. Fitr is derived form the word fatar meaning “breaking”. Certain Muslims believe that fitr comes from fitrat, meaning “nature” and Eid al Fitr is the celebration of God’s magnanimity in providing nature to the man. Celebrated on the first day of the new moon in Shawwal, it marks the end of Ramadan.
EID AL DEHA (Feast of Sacrifice)
This religious event begins about 70 days after the end of Ramadan and is dedicated to Abraham’s sacrifice his son Ibrahim as an act of obedience to God. This event lasts for four days.