Meskel is a significant religious observance celebrated by Orthodox followers in Ethiopia and its neighboring country, Eritrea. It commemorates the discovery of the “true cross” upon which Jesus Christ was crucified, an event attributed to Saint Helena during the fourth century in Palestine.
According to legend, Saint Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I, was led to the cross by following the smoke from a ceremonial bonfire. It is believed that a piece of this cross was brought back to Ethiopia.
In preparation for Meskel, extensive arrangements are made. Devotees construct large pyres in streets and church courtyards for a ceremony known as “demera,” which marks the beginning of the festivities. At sunset, after hours of dancing and singing, these bonfires, adorned with crosses and native flowers, are ignited all across the country.