What is Meskel? And how is it celebrated?

Meskel: Ethiopia’s Festival of the True Cross

Meskel, also known as “Finding of the True Cross,” is a colorful and vibrant holiday celebrated in Ethiopia. This ancient festival holds deep religious significance for Christians in Ethiopia. It is a unique holiday and it coincides with the end of the raining season and the beginning of the harvest time in Ethiopia.

The Origin of Meskel:
Meskel traces its roots back over 1,600 years to the fourth century AD. According to Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition, it commemorates the discovery of the True Cross upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. The story goes that Queen Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had a dream guiding her to find the Holy Cross. She and her followers lit a bonfire, and the smoke led them to the spot where the Cross was buried. The word meskel means “cross” in Ge’ez, the ancient Ethiopian language.

Meskel Eve:
The celebration of Meskel begins on the evening of September 26th. Families and communities gather to light a large bonfire called a “Demera.” This central event is a symbol of the bonfire that Queen Helena used to find the True Cross. The Demera is adorned with yellow Meskel daisies, and it is surrounded by joyful singing and dancing. All over the country the bonfires are lit. In Addis Ababa (the capitol city) the bonfire set in Meskel Square is HUGE.

(Demera in Addis Ababa: this photo provide by Hilena Tafesse with permission)

Meskel Flower:
One of the most beautiful aspects of Meskel is the Meskel flower (Adey Abeba). These bright, yellow daisies bloom around the time of the holiday, adding natural beauty to the festivities. In many regions, children collect these flowers to make garlands and wreaths for the celebration. People wear the flowers in their hair, or adorn their bodies with flower tucked into every pocket or button hole.

(Meskel florer: this photo provide by Hilena Tafesse with permission)

Religious Meaning:
Meskel is a religious holiday celebrated by Christians. During the celebrations, colorful processions take place, led by priests dressed in traditional attire. They carry crosses and perform religious chants and hymns. The prayers and rituals are a magnificent part of Meskel, expressing gratitude for the discovery of the True Cross.

Cultural Significance:
While Meskel is a religious holiday, it also holds cultural significance for all Ethiopians. It is a time for families to come together, share meals, and enjoy the vibrant traditions of their country. Traditional dances, music, and feasts are shared by families, neighbors, and communities all over the country.

Unique Traditions:
In some regions of Ethiopia, people engage in a practice called “Bull Jumping” during Meskel. Young men demonstrate their bravery by jumping over rows of bulls, a tradition that dates back centuries.

Meskel is a beautiful Ethiopian holiday that celebrates both religious and cultural aspects of the country’s rich heritage. The holiday reminds us of the deep-rooted traditions that have been passed down through generations. The lighting of the Demera, the Meskel flowers, and the sense of togetherness make Meskel a unique and vivid celebration.

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