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Timket or Epiphany

This is the final great religious festival and is the most important Orthodox Christian festival in Ethiopia. It commemorates when saint John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Since Lalibella is one of the major centers of Christian pilgrimage, its version of Timkat is very unique.

From each of the eleven churches of lalibela spills a procession carrying Tabots, where procession stream from the two groups of churches are then joined by the procession from the church of St. George travelling onto the banks of the Jordan River where a great white tent will then harbor all tabots. There the prayers and cantices will continue throughout the night and next day where holy water is sprinkled and people baptized and at dusk the tabots would have journeyed back to their respective churches.

Christmas or Gena

Christmas or Gena celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ at the same time the rest of the Christian world celebrates it (Christmas Eve). At the midnight mass the Dabtaras sing special canticles and at noon on Christmas day, youths in traditional dress play genna chewata to commemorate the Sheppard’s who were playing this game outside the stable while Jesus was born (the game consists of pushing a wooden ball with a long stick similar to today’s game of hockey). It was these shepherds who spread the good news. The three wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are also celebrated.


A celebration commemorating saint Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine(4th century), who found the true cross in Jerusalem is a great festival celebrated 16 days after the New Year comes.

Tradition says that saint Helena lit a bon fire or burned incense and implored God to show her the way to the true cross and that the smoke led her to the path. And another tradition tells that part of the true cross was brought to Ethiopia by one of the king and on the way to the capitol, the faithful lit bonfires when passing it on through their village to notify the next village the presence of the true cross.

In preparation for Meskal, believers prepare the demera by tying several branches together and bundling them in the shape of a tepee with a cross decorated with the Adey Abeba daisy flower (the meskal flower) on the top.

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