The Ethiopian Meskel Celebration, also known as Meskel or Mesqel, is one of the most important religious festivals in Ethiopia. It commemorates the discovery of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified, according to Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition.
The festival is celebrated on September 27th (or Meskerem 17th in the Ethiopian calendar, which corresponds to September 27th in the Gregorian calendar). However, it’s important to note that the Ethiopian calendar is roughly seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, so the date may vary slightly from year to year.
Here are some key elements and customs associated with the Ethiopian Meskel Celebration:
- Bonfire Lighting: The central and most iconic part of the Meskel celebration is the lighting of a massive bonfire, often referred to as “Demera.” This bonfire is traditionally made from a large wooden structure adorned with yellow Meskel daisies (Adey Abeba) and other flowers. It is typically set up in a central location, such as a town square or church courtyard.
- Religious Processions: Ethiopian Orthodox Christians dress in traditional white robes and gather for religious processions that lead to the site of the bonfire. Priests, deacons, and church members march carrying crosses, colorful umbrellas, and religious artifacts while chanting hymns and prayers.
- Blessing of the Fire: Once the procession reaches the bonfire site, the clergy bless the fire, and the bonfire is lit. The lighting of the bonfire symbolizes the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great.
- Singing and Dancing: After the bonfire is lit, people celebrate by singing and dancing around the fire. It’s a joyous occasion, and traditional Ethiopian music and dance play a significant role in the festivities.
- Meskel Demera Feast: Following the lighting of the bonfire and the celebrations, families and communities gather for a festive meal. Traditional dishes like injera (a sourdough flatbread) and doro wat (a spicy chicken stew) are commonly served during the Meskel Demera feast.
- Meskel Flowers: Yellow Meskel daisies (Adey Abeba) are an important symbol of the festival. They are often used in decorations, and people exchange them as a sign of goodwill and celebration.
- Religious Observances: Besides the public celebrations, Meskel is also a time for religious observances and prayers at Ethiopian Orthodox Christian churches. Many people attend church services and participate in religious rituals during this period.
The Ethiopian Meskel Celebration is not only a religious event but also a cultural and social celebration that brings communities together. It’s an excellent opportunity for Ethiopians to showcase their rich cultural heritage and deep spiritual connection. The festivities vary from region to region but generally follow these core traditions.