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Religious Festivals

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Religion is an integral part of Ethiopian life and culture and is celebrated with impressive ceremonies, traditional dress, music and dancing providing a blanket of colourful expression across the country. The most important festivals of The Orthodox Tewahedo Church are Enkutatash (New Year), Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), Ledet (Christmas), Timket (Epiphany) and Fasika (Easter). Islam is also an important religion in Ethiopia and the main festivals are Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.

Christian Festivals


Coptic book opened on page showing religious ceremonies

The Ethiopian New Year and the Feast of St John the Baptist are honoured on Meskerem 1 September in the Ethiopian calendar (11 September Gregorian calendar, or September 12 during a leap year). There are three days of prayers, sermons, and hymns along with processions. The big main event takes place in the 14th Century church, Kostete Yohannes, in Gaynt (Gondar Region). Closer to Addis Ababa, the Raguel Church at the top of Entoto Mountain is also a popular venue.

Enkutatash literally means "gift of jewels" and marks the return of the Queen of Sheba from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, welcomed back by her chiefs, who refilled her treasury with Jewels. Enkutatash also signals the end of the big rains prompting dancing and singing to celebrate the arrival of spring in the now green countryside.


Coptic book showing Jesus on the cross

This festival celebrates "The Finding of the True Cross" (the cross upon which Jesus was crucified) by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in the 4th Century. When Empress Helena, in her fruitless search for the Holy Sepulchre, lit incense and prayed for help from God, she was compelled to follow the perfumed smoke to a particular place on the ground – digging, she found three crosses, one of which is said to be the True Cross.

The remote Gishen Mariam monastery, in the Welo Regions, was given custodianship of piece of the True Cross. The details of how this fragment arrived there is documented in a religious tome, call the Tefut, written between 1434-1468, during the reign of Zera Yacob.

In Addis Ababa, Meskel Square is the place that Emperor Dawit, received a piece of the True Cross, rather than the usual gold, as a reward for the protecting the then Coptic minorities, so naturally it is at Meskel Square where the ceremony takes place.

Priest at Lalibella

Starting in the afternoon, having planted a green tree the night before in the centre of the chosen site, parades of people from every walk of life and from every direction, carry lit torches made of branches tied together, and march to the "Demera", an enormous bonfire on which the lit torches are thrown. The light from the bonfire is symbolic of the Ethiopian legend, whereby all who came close to the piece of the True Cross became naked in its light. As the sun disappears behind the horizon, giving way to night, Meskel becomes an even more spectacular sight with thousands of people, singing, flowers, feasting and the welcoming of friends and strangers alike into their homes to share beer and food until dawn.

Feast of Saint Gabriel

The church was built in 1880.The festival of Saint Gabriel (kulubi Gabriel), the Archangel, is celebrated on every December (Tahsas) 19 Ethiopian calendar (December 28 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Kulubi, about 68 kilometers from Dire Dawa. Orthodox Tewahido (one in union) Christians mark the celebration with colorful processions and ceremonies. Kulubi is the largest pilgrimage place in Ethiopia. Pilgrims (about 100,000 People) walk up the hill to the church to fulfill their vow and give gifts to the church. People around the world gather in December for Kulubi. The area surrounding the church becomes almost a carnival site with the arrival of the multitude starting from Tahsas 18(27 December). Babies born through Gabriel's intervention are brought to the front of the Church for baptism. During the duration of the celebration about 1,000 babies may be christened, most of them named after Saint Gabriel.



On 29 December (7 January Gregorian calendar), Ledet (Christmas) signals the end of Tsome Gahad, (Advent) a total of 43 days of fasting. Beginning at 6 am with a magnificent procession and lasting until 9 am, people attend mass then celebrate the end of the fast with the customary meal of injera with chicken, lamb or beef and traditional beer, Tella and 'honey wine', Tej.


Timket in Addis Ababa

Timket (Epiphany) is one of the most brilliantly colourful greatest and most brilliantly colourful festivals on Ethiopia's Orthodox Tewahido church calendar. Celebrated on 11 January (19 January Gregorian calendar) in memory of the Christ's baptism in the River Jordan by St John. The churches are filled to overflowing with people attending for morning prayers; afterwards the priests take out replicas of the Arc of the covenant, followed by a procession of people, to the baptism ceremony venue.

The following morning, the replica covenants are returned to their respective churches. It is for this festival the special break called Himash in Tigrinya and Ambasha in Amharic is baked and sheep are slaughtered for the three-day celebration.



Fasika is another major celebration that follows the 55 day Lent fasting during which Orthodox Christians abstain from eating meat and dairy, following largely vegan diet and only then eating after daily prayers at 3 pm in the afternoon on weekdays. A meal may be taken after morning prayers on weekends.

Fasika is not as colourful but no less a spectacular as traditional white clothes are worn by all. There are prayers on Easter Eve, attended by all, until 3 am and then families get together to exchange gifts and mark the end of Lent with traditional meals of meat and injera.

Islamic Festivals

Mosque at Harar

  • Muharram/Al Hijra - New Year
  • Milad-an-Nabi - birthday of Prophet Mohammed
  • Lailt-ul-Isra - the night of ascension
  • Lailat-Ul-Bara'ah - the night of forgiveness
  • Ramadan - month of fasting
  • Eid-ul-Fitr - end of the fast
  • The Hajj - pilgrimage to Mecca
  • Eid-ul-Adha - end of the Hajj pilgrimage


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