For this account of Easter in Bahir Dar, I think it’s best we start with a bit of history. Ethiopia’s history and historical sites where tourists regularly visit bear witness to the country’s status as an ancient cradle of civilization. The country is equally one of the earliest Christian nations in the world. Its long biblical connection dates back to the Queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon. There is also the new testament account of the court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, that apostle Philip met on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:28-40). Today, much might have changed since a larger world turned to Christianity, but Ethiopia has held tenaciously to its version of the faith—to its advantage though.
Ethiopia Orthodox Christians
The uniqueness of the Ethiopian orthodox Christian practise usually draws attention across the world. Unlike the funfair that usually characterises Christmas in December across the world, Ethiopian orthodox Christians have a different day for Christmas, so December, as the larger world knows it, simply glide away in the country, except among the few nonorthodox Christians there.
Far more intriguing is the country’s alphabet and it’s adherence to the Julian calendar (as against the Gregorian one popular across the globe). The calendar obviously has significant effects on Christian festivals in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, Orthodox Christians celebrate Genna (Christmas) on 7 January and Timket (Epiphany) on 19/20 January. Easter however bridges the divide.
Easter among Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia is preceded by a 55 day fast. During these days, no Christian is expected to eat animal products at all and strict observers will take only water before midday. It’s no surprise therefore that after 55 days, Easter comes in like an orgy of meat eating.
Easter Travel Routes in Ethiopia
In Amharic, Easter is called Fasika. It is the biggest holiday of the year in Ethiopia and many people consider visiting Ethiopia at this period to felicitate with the orthodox Christians there and explore the historical sites and incredible scenery of the county. Most itineraries go like this: Addis Ababa – Bahir Dar/Lake Tana (Blue Nile Falls) – Gondar – (Simien Mountains) – Lalibela – Addis Ababa. Bahir Dar is usually of particular interest because of Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls as well as its ‘hidden’ monasteries.
How Bahir Dar Celebrates Easter
Bahir Dar is located on the southern shore of Lake Tana and is only an hour’s journey to the Blue Nile Falls. If you are in the city during the Easter season, you should feel free to participate in the loads of traditions that residents have associated with the festival. Nationwide, Good Friday is usually a public holiday, while on Holy Saturday, palm leaves feature prominently because people (males) usually walk around with a long piece of palm frond tied around their heads as a reminder of the crown of thorns that Jesus worn. House and restaurant floors are often also covered with palms or grass on this day.
Holy Saturday also marks the last day of fasting. Therefore, by evening—around 10pm, most residents go to church to pray and chant till 3 am when the fasting period officially ends. Afterwards, everyone returns home to prepare nice meals for the celebration. Typically, most households prepare Doro Wat, a sort of chicken stew to end the fast before going to sleep.
The sharing of coffee launches Easter Sunday in Bahir Dar. In the afternoon, sheep, goat or cow—depending on what each household can afford, is killed and cooked for meal.
What to see in Bahir Dar
A visit to Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls won’t be a bad idea. Though a dam construction has reduced the rate as which water cascade down at the falls, it is still a nice sight.
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