FESTIVALS | Absolute Ethiopia


Ledet falls on December 29th on the Ethiopian calendar (January 7th on the Gregorian calendar). It is celebrated after 43 days of fasting, known as Tsome Gehad (advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 am and lasts until 9 am. After the mass (service), people go home to break the fast with the traditional disesh and drinks.


One of the greatest festival in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church calendar, it commemorates Christ’s Baptism by St. John in the Jordan River. Timket is celebrated in Ethiopia on the 11th January Ethiopian calendar (19th January Gregorian calendar), two weeks after Genna (Ethiopian Christmas). The festivities begin on the Eve of Timket with colorful processions and ceremonies ending on the 12th January (20th January Gregorian calendar). A myriad of traditional dishes are prepared, the customary beverages Tella and Tej are brewed and a special bread is baked called “Ambasha”. Sheep are also slaughtered to mark this grand three-day celebration.


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. Only vegetarian meals are eaten on these days. On Easter eve people go to church and celebrate by lightling candles during a colorful Easter mass service which begins at about 6 PM (12 o’clock in the evening Ethiopian time) and ends at about 3 AM (9 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 with injera and traditional drinks (tella or tej). Like Christmas, Easter is also a day of family re-union, an expression of good wishes with exchange of gifts (i.e. lamb, goat or loaf of bread).


Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) falls on Meskerem 1st on the Ethiopian calendar and September 11 in the Gregorian calendar. Literally translated as the “gift of jewels”, Enkutatash is an important festival in the lives of Ethiopians. Its celebration dates back to the days of the Queen of Sheba. After three months of heavy rain, spring comes creating a beautiful clear fresh atmosphere in Ethiopia. The highlands turn to gold as the daisies burst into flowers. Enkutatash is a grand merriment in Ethiopia, it is very exhilarating to be a part of this vibrant, one of a kind celebration.


The Meskel festival is one of the most important spiritual events in Ethiopian culture. It takes place on September 17th on the Ethiopian calendar (September 27th on the Gregorian calendar). Meskel is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as Demmera. Every year thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians gather at the sunken rock churches of Lalibela for this festival which commemorates the finding of the very cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The celebration of Meskel recognizes the presence of the true cross at the Mountain of Gishen Miriam monastery. This monastery holds a volume of a book which records the story of the true cross of Christ and how it was discovered. On the eve, pilgrims sleep outside the ceremonial tent containing the Tabots, replicas of the Ark of the Covenant. The Tabots are carried through the streets by priests; many pilgrims believe the original Ark of the Covenant is kept safe in northern Ethiopia. The start of the festival is a riot of colour, music and dancing as worshippers converge on the churches.


The commemoration of Mary, “Hidar Tsion” is associated with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in Axum. This festival is attended by tens of thousands of people from all over Ethiopia, making it one of the most Joyful annual pilgrimages in Axum, the “sanctified city of the Ethiopians.” The annual celebration consists of priests chanting church music, beating drums and the ordinary people who are gathered as far as Addis Ababa cheering and attending the festival.