On Easter eve people celebrate and go to church with candles which are lit during a colorful Easter Mass service which begins at about midnight Ethiopian time. People go home to break their fast with the meat of chicken or lamb, slaughtered the previous night, accompanied with injera and traditional drinks (i.e. 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).
Timket, feast of Epiphany is the greatest festival of the year falling on the 19 January
just two weeks after the Ethiopian Christmas. It is actually a three-day affair beginning
on the eve of Timket with dramatic and colourful processions. The following morning
the great day itself, Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist is
Since October and the end of the rains, the country has been drying up steadily. The
sun blazes down from a clear blue sky and the Festival of Timkat always take place in
Enormous effort is put into the occasion. Tej and tella (Ethiopian mead and beer) are
brewed, special bread is baked, and the fat-tailed African sheep are fattened for
slaughter. Gifts are prepared for the children and new clothes purchased or old mended
Everyone men, women, and children appears resplendent for the three-day celebration.
Dressed in the dazzling white of the traditional dress, the locals provide a dramatic
contrast to the jewel colors of the ceremonial velvets and satins of the priests’ robes and
sequined velvet umbrellas.
Ledet (Christmas) falls on December 29 Ethiopian calendar (January 7 Gregorian
calendar). Christmas, called Lidet, is not the primary religious and secular festival that it
has become in Western countries. Falling on 7 January, it is celebrated seriously by a
church service that goes on throughout the night, with people moving from one church
to another. Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey, called genna, on
this day, and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.
The festival of Meskel 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.
Many of the rites observed throughout the festival are said to be directly connected to
the legend of Empress Helena. On the eve of Maskel tall branches are tied together and
yellow daisies, popularly called meskel flowers, are placed at the top. During the night
these branches are gathered together in front of the compound gates and ignited. This
symbolises the actions of the Empress whom, when no one would show her the Holy
Sepulchre, lit incense and prayed for help. Where the smoke drifted she dug and found
three crosses. To one of them, the True Cross, many miracles were attributed.
The Ethiopian New Year falls in September at the end of the big rains. The sun comes
out to shine all day long creating an atmosphere of dazzling clarity and fresh clean air.
The highlands turn to gold as the Meskel daisies burst out in all their splendour.
Ethiopian children clad in brand new clothes dance through the villages giving
bouquets of flowers and painted pictures to each household.
September 11th is both New Year’s Day and the Feast of St. John the Baptist. The day is
called Enkutatash meaning 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 back by replenishing her treasury with enku 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.
The main religious celebration takes place at the 14th-century Kostete Yohannes
church in the city of Gaynt within the Gondar Region. Three days of prayers, psalms,
and hymns, sermons, and massive colourful processions mark the advent of the New
Year. Closer to Addis Ababa, the Raguel Church, on top of the Entoto Mountain north of
the city, has the largest and most spectacular religious celebration. But Enkutatash is
not exclusively a religious holiday, and the little girls singing and dancing in pretty new
dresses among the flowers in the fields convey the message of springtime and renewed
life. Today’s Enkutatash is also the season for exchanging formal New Year greetings
and cards among the urban sophisticated in lieu of the traditional bouquet of flowers.