Cultural diversity, historical artifacts, and natural heritage all contribute to making Ethiopia one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. The world famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the history of the 2,000 year old Axum, the walled city of Harar, the castles of Gondar, and the rich endemic wildlife species can all be experienced in Ethiopia. But not just these things; Ethiopia keeps its traditions alive and well. Religious, cultural or national celebratory festivals are entertaining both for locals and visitors. Below are the most popular festivals and shouldn’t miss events in Ethiopia.
I. Ethiopian New Year (Enqutatash), September 11th (Meskerem 1)
Ethiopian New Year, following the Coptic calendar, falls on September 11th (Meskerem 1). Ethiopian New Year is accompanied by aggressive shopping, New Year bazaars and exhibition sales, and concerts of renowned and upcoming artists. This day marks the approximate end of the rainy season and is historically associated with the return of Queen Sheba from a visit with King Solomon. New Year’s morning witnesses young girls dressed in white traditional cloths (yehabesha libs) going around their neighborhood singing the enqutatash song while young boys sell drawings and sketches to families.
II. Finding of the True Cross (Meskel), September 27th (Meskerem 17)
Legend has it that when Queen Eleni, after having a dream, burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense, the smoke rose to the sky and led her to where the cross was buried. Beautiful Meskel daisies blossom around Ethiopia, the rainy season is almost over, and what is more, a large bonfire (Demera, composed of very thin wood sticks) placed in a cone like format is burned until ashes remain. Is there a better way to welcome the New Year, new beginnings, and new life than to burn down things? Maybe not. The wood is decorated with the Meskel flowers (yellow daisies), grass and a cross on top of the pile. The burning ceremony will take hours to come to an end, but no worries, the heat from the fire, the small talk with the person next to you and children and church members singing and cheering in small circles will keep you warm throughout the late night.
III. Ethiopian Epiphany (Timket), January 19th (Tirr 11)
The celebration of Jesus Christ’s baptism, that takes place for most of two consecutive days, is one of the most celebrated, colorful and vibrant celebrations in Ethiopia. On the eve of Timket, the sacred replicas of the Ark of Covenant (tabot), wrapped in colorful clothes, are placed on a handpicked priest’s head and together with the other clergymen, leave the church and pilgrimage to a predetermined location referred to as Timkete Bahr (Sea for Timket) usually a few kilometers away to be joined by similar crowds from other churches nearby. Dressed in all white, and surrounded by the choir (mezemiran), the journey, although long and very slow, is very energetic with everyone singing, clapping and jumping up and down. Once at the Timkete Bahr, the priests, the clergymen will go to their tents for the night and anyone else is welcome to spend the night out in the open. The next day, Christians from all around will gather around the Timkete Bahr to get sprayed by holy water and some to jump into the bath or river (if there are any) for a symbolic renewal of their own baptism. The journey back to the churches is as energetic as the journey from with the different tabots going together until they must part ways. With the famous Fasiledes bath and very big Christian population, Gondar is the most famous and widely chosen Timket destination by all.