Nothing highlights Ethiopia’s devotion like the various religious ceremonies and festivals celebrated in different parts of the country. Like they say; “Seeing is believing!”
Of the many festivals observed in the country such as Ledet or Genna (Christmas), Meskel (Finding the True Cross), Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year), Fasika (Easter), and so many others including Jewish and Muslim religious festivities, the biggest and most colorful is Timkat (Epiphany).
Timkat is often conducted with great pomp and pageantry, and if you find yourself in Ethiopia in January – do all you can not to miss the event! It is a 3-day ceremony (actually, Timkat itself is a 2-day event) which celebrates the Epiphany, by commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ at the River Jordan by John the Baptist.
Timkat is usually celebrated on the 19th of January (January 11th on the Ethiopian Calendar) every year, except for leap years, when it takes place on the 20th.
Ketera: January 18 (Eve of Timkat)
On the eve of Timkat known as Ketera (18th of January), activities start with the local priests bringing out the tabot, which is a replica of the Ark of Covenant, from different churches. With the tabot beautifully wrapped in rich silk cloth, it is carried by the priest on his head and taken to a place near a water pool. A procession of other priests, drummers, choir and other people follow singing.
A white tent is put up where the tabot is kept through the night, while hymns are sung by the choir and the priests pray. At 02:00 in the morning a mass is held with candlelight.
As the dawn starts to break, after the prayers, a senior priest blesses the water and sprinkles it on the congregation. Of course, the more ardent worshipers just leap straight into the pool to renew their vows.
By afternoon, all tabots (except the tabot from St. Michael Church), are returned back to their churches in a procession with the priests and young people animated and leaping like King David in the Bible.
The people eventually disperse into the villages to continue the celebrations. A special bread called ambasha in Amharic is baked, while sheep are slaughtered and prepared for the feast. A traditional beer, tella brewed various grains like teff and maize, and tej, a honey wine are served around during the celebration.
The Day After: January 20 (Feast of Saint Michael)
The day following day, the 20th is dedicated to the Feast of St. Michael. Ethiopia’s most popular saint is Michael the archangel, and it is on this day that the tabot of St. Michael Church is returned accompanied with the same processional singing, dancing and general excitement.
Best Places to Witness Timkat
Addis Ababa, Gondar and Lalibela are probably the best places to go, if you want to enjoy the spiritual spectacle known as Timkat. In Gondar, the commemorative baptism takes place at the Bath of Fasilides; while in Addis Ababa, the people gather at the Jan Meda field, where they pitch their tents on the eve, armed with their oil lamps while enjoying a night picnic.
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