Meskel Festival: A Journey To Discover Ethiopia's Rich Culture And History

By Jenna Jolie

One of the most significant celebrations in Ethiopia is the Meskel festival. It is a cultural event that is highly recommended for international visitors and is commemorated with a massive bonfire.

Ethiopia uses a different calendar than the rest of the world, and its New Year is celebrated on September 11 (or September 12 in leap years) every year. Later in the month, though, is when the Ethiopian religious year's largest festival takes place.

Ethiopians commemorate the True Cross on September 27 or 28 (depending on the year) in Meskel Square in Addis Abeba. Most international guests who want to go to the traditional festival must first get an Ethiopian visa before going to Meskel in Ethiopia.

The Meskel celebration commemorate the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena

The Meskel celebration commemorate the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena

What is Meskel festival in Ethiopia?

The Ethiopian Orthodox church observes the Ethiopia Meskel festival every year.

It honors the purported finding of the actual cross that the Romans used to crucify Jesus.

According to mythology, Roman Empress Helena was given a vision in a dream in the fourth century BC, directing her to the location of the cross.

She gave the order for the citizens of Jerusalem to gather wood, and the smoke from a massive bonfire appeared to point to the spot where the cross was interred.

Since it is said that a portion of the cross Saint Helena discovered was carried to Ethiopia and is kept in the highlands of Amba Geshen, the True Cross Meskel festival is regarded as the most significant religious event in Ethiopia.

When is the Meskel celebration in Ethiopia 2023?

Typically, Meskel falls on September 27.

But it is observed by with the Ethiopian calendar, which is slightly different from the Gregorian calendar used by most Western nations. Meskel occurs on September 28, according to the Ethiopian calendar, in leap years. The Gregorian calendar's leap years are not synchronized with Ethiopia's.

The 28th of September in 2023 will be Meskel.

Meskel Festival will be held on September 28, 2023

Meskel Festival will be held on September 28, 2023

How is Meskel celebrated in Ethiopia?

On September 26, the night before the feast, the festivities get underway in earnest. People prepare the demera, a towering pyramid of branches that from a distance resembles a fir tree and is topped with a cross of meskel flowers, that morning in public squares or at junctions. People dance and revel in the vicinity of the demera in the late afternoon. Numerous sizable dance ensembles perform around Meskel Square beneath the viewing platform.

Speeches are made by clergy and elected officials, and biblically-themed floats march around the grounds. The demera is lit on fire just as night falls. According to legend, the smoke reminds St. Helena of the smoke that allegedly guided her to the location of the True Cross.

Then, whether with their families or at the demera site, the celebrants share a meal. Ethiopians celebrate with family and friends the next day, which is the formal Feast of the Finding of the True Cross, by attending liturgy and a feast. Many people tattoo a cross on their bodies using the demera ashes.

According to many Ethiopians, the Demera bonfire has the following qualities:

  • The ability to atone for misdeeds.
  • Interpreting the direction of the smoke and the way the blaze falls to foretell the future.

Remember to apply for the Ethiopia e-Visa well in advance of your trip if you wish to attend Ethiopia's distinctive Meskel True Cross festival.

Where is the main feast?

The major national feast is celebrated in Meskel Plaza, a sizable square in Addis Abeba that has been designated and devoted specifically for the celebration of the feast. Tens of thousands of people may watch from a semicircular stadium in this square. Bishops and local authorities preside over the festivities. Meskel is a period when many city dwellers go back to their countryside, despite the fact that there are enormous celebrations in the capital. Thousands of small ceremonies take place throughout neighborhoods and towns to honor the Meskel.

Celebrations of Meskel is celebrated in Addis Abeba

Celebrations of Meskel are celebrated in Addis Abeba

The symbolism of Meskel festival

The Meskel festival represents, among other things, man's liberation from sin and his entry into a relationship with God following Jesus' death. Christian believers believe that Jesus' death and resurrection are central to their faith, and thus the discovery of the cross serves to reaffirm and strengthen their faith in their religion.

The ash from the day before the event is used to make a cross on the foreheads of the believers who have gathered to witness the event. These markings, which are associated with the Ash Wednesday celebration, are thought to represent a mark that represents the cancellation and forgiveness of sins following Jesus' death on the Cross.

Other provinces and the Meskel festival

As a national event, the celebration is not limited to the capital city. Across the country, different tribes, provinces, and cities celebrate on a smaller scale. Most people living in different parts of Ethiopia are reportedly traveling to their hometowns to celebrate the event with their families.

These smaller-scale celebrations are held by lighting miniature versions of the capital's fires on the streets outside their homes. Later, they gather to drink honey wine and eat the traditional meal of raw minced meat in flat, dry bread. Christmas came early for the Ethiopians.

Meskel festival - a Must see in Ethiopia for travelers?

The Meskel festival is a must-see because it not only displays Ethiopia's rich Christian heritage but also the beauty of Ethiopian Orthodox churches with their colorful way of worship.

Tourists will have a fantastic time at the Meskel festival, which reveals a true Christian culture in Africa.

Meskel festival is known as the third most important event in Ethiopia. Christians around the world, as well as tourists who want to learn more about the cultural features of Christianity, can plan a visit to Ethiopia one day soon. With just a few simple steps - apply for an e-Visa for your trip, and you can be part of Ethiopia's premier Meskel festival. Visit Ethiopia Immigration Services’ website to see what else we have in store for visitors.