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Religious Festivals

Festival a time of celebration marked by special observances  as "a merrymaking" or "a joyous anniversary or carnival “  A festival  is an event, usually and ordinarily staged by a local community, which centers on and celebrates some unique aspect of that community and the Festival.

Among many religions, a feast is a set of celebrations in honor of God or gods. A feast and a festival are historically interchangeable. However, the term "feast" has also entered common secular parlance as a synonym for any large or elaborate meal. When used as in the meaning of a festival in Ethiopia, most often refers to religious rather than a film or art festival. Religion plays an important part of life in Ethiopia. The Orthodox Tewahedo Church ceremonies are unique and impressive. People dress in traditional costume and celebrate festivals across the country with colorful unique ceremonies, that is really means is a long series of processions, singing and music, traditional different distinctive dances of ethnic groups, especially on  Timket (Epiphany )  and  Meskel  (Finding of the  True Cross) festivals which provide colorful ceremonies and celebrations.

Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)

Meskel celebration bonfireMeskal has been celebrated in the country for over 1600 years. The word Meskel means "cross" Meskel is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as "Damera". Meskel commemorates the finding of the True Cross in the fourth century when Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the True Cross on which Christ was crucified. The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on Meskerem 17 Ethiopian calendar (September 27 Gregorian calendar), 6 months after the discovery of the True Cross. The celebration of Meskel signifies the presence of the True Cross at mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery and also symbolizes the events carried out by Empress Helena.

According to tradition, Empress Helena lit incense and prayed for assistance to guide her. The smoke drifted towards the direction of the buried cross. She dug and found three crosses; one of them was the True Cross used to crucify Jesus Christ. Empress Helena then gave a piece of the True Cross to all churches, including the Ethiopian Church. This piece was then brought to Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian legend, when people get close to the piece of the True Cross it made them naked by its powerful light. Because of this, a decision was made to bury it at the mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery in Wollo region. The monastery of Gishen Mariam holds a volume of a book which records the story of the True Cross of Christ and how it was acquired. The best place to participate on MESKEL,Damera is Addis Meskel Square

Ethiopian Christmas (Genna)

Ethiopian ChristmasChristmas, called Lidet, falls on December 29 Ethiopian calendars (January 7 Gregorian calendar). Ledet is celebrated after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent). The festivity is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night, with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 AM and lasts until 9 AM. After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb or beef accompanied with Injera and the traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej).

Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey, called Genna, on this day, and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name. 


Ethiopian Epiphany (Timket)

Timkat (Amharic "baptism") is one of the greatest National festivals in Ethiopian specially the Ethiopian Orthodoxcelebration. This greatest festival of the year falling on January 19  (or 20 on Leap Year), corresponding to the 10th day of Terr following the Ethiopian calendar. Timket celebrates to commemorate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. This festival is best known for its ritual reenactment of baptism (similar to such reenactments performed by numerous Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land when they visit the Jordan.)

During the ceremonies of Timkat, the Tabot, a model of the Ark of the Covenant, which is present on every Ethiopian altar (somewhat like the Western altar stone), is reverently wrapped in rich cloth and born in procession on the head of the priest. The Tabot, which is otherwise rarely seen by the laity, represents the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah when he came to the Jordan for baptism. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated near a stream or pool early in the morning (around 1a.m.). Then the nearby body of water is blessed towards dawn and sprinkled on the participants, some of whom enter the water and immerse themselves, symbolically renewing their baptismal vows.   On the holiday day of Timket, Tella and Tej are brewed, special bread is baked called "Himbash"  (in Tigrigna) "Ambasha" (in Amharic), and sheep are slaughtered to mark the three-day celebration.  Since October and the end of the rains, the country has been drying up steadily. The sun blazes down from clear blue sky and the festival of  Timket   always takes place in glorious weather.Arcs from different churches gathering for the celebrationGonder Fasildes Epiphany celebration

By noon on Timqat Day a large crowd has assembled at the ritual site, those who went home for a little sleep ,Meal  and drinks having returned, and the holy ark is escorted back to its church in colorful procession. The clergy, bearing robes and umbrellas of many hues, perform rollicking dances and songs; the elders march solemnly with their weapons, attended by middle-ages men singing a long-drawn, low-pitched haaa hooo; and the children run about with sticks and games. Dressed up in their finest, the women chatter excitedly on their one real day of freedom in the year. The young braves leap up and down in spirited dances, tirelessly repeating rhythmic songs. When the Holy Ark has been safely restored to its dwelling-place, everyone goes home for feasting.

  The best place to participate on Timket  , Addis Ababa, Gondar, Lalibela   Ethiopia 

Ethiopian Easter (Fasika)

Fasika (Easter) is celebrated after 55 days severe Lent fasting (Hudade or Abye Tsome). Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and diary products for the whole 55 days. Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit and varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by injera and/or bread are only eaten on these days. The fist meal of the day is taken after 3 PM (9 o'clock in the afternoon Ethiopian time) during the fasting days, except Saturdays and Sundays, where a meal is allowed after the morning service.

On Easter eve people go to church and celebrate with candles which are lit during a colorful Easter mass service which begins at about 6 PM (12 o'clock in the evening Ethiopian time) and ends at about 2 AM (8 o'clock after mid-night Ethiopian time).

Everyone goes home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb, slaughtered the previous night after 6 PM, accompanied with injera and traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Like Christmas, Easter is also a day of family re-union, an expression of good wishes with exchange of gifts (i.e. lamb, goat or loaf of bread). 

Debra Damo (Feast of Saint Aregawi)

Orthodox Tewahedo Christians celebrate the feast of Saint (Abune) Aregawi, on October 14 Ethiopian calendar (October 24 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Debra Damo, about 25 kilometres from Adigrat, from all over the country.

Cathedral Of Tsion (Zion) Mariam

A very noble church, the first there was in Ethiopia…named Saint Mary of Zion because the apostles sent from Mount Zion.

Foundation stones of the 4th-century St. Mary's Church can still be seen on the site.

The 17th-century old Church of St. Mary of Zion shows Syrian influence. It is a squat, square structure surrounded by a colonnade, used by dancing priests during services. It has crenellated, fortress-like walls that reflect the site's violent past, and a hushed interior decorated with colorful murals and paintings.

Inside the church is a vestibule, and beyond that is the Holy of Holies, closed to everyone but the priests. Male pilgrims cannot go beyond the vestibule and women are confined to the courtyard.

The new St. Mary of Zion is modern in its architecture, more spacious than the old one,  and decorated with colorful art. It was built in a modern interpretation of the Greek Byzantine style with Ethiopian influences. At the front of the church is a large painting depicting the Holy Trinity, the Twelve Apostles, and the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Hidar Tsion (Celebration of Holy Mary)

Day of the Virgin is one of the most revered religious figures all in Ethiopia. About 33 days annually devoted to different celebrations in commemoration of Mary. "Hidar Zion" is associated with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in Axum and the belief that the Ark is a symbol of her womb. The fall on November 30 every  year, this festival is attended by thousands of people from foreign countries and all parts of Ethiopia, making it one of the happiest annual pilgrimages in the country, the "city of Blessed Ethiopians.

Kulubi  Gebriel (Feast of Saint Gabriel)

The feast of Saint Gabriel (kulubi Gebriel), the Archangel, is celebrated on December 19 Ethiopian calendar (December 28 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Kulubi, about 68 kilometres from Dire Dawa. Orthodox Tewahedo Christians mark the celebration with colourful processions and ceremonies. Pilgrims walk up the hill to the church to fulfil a vow and give gifts to the church. Some pilgrims carry heavy rocks on their back up the hill to the church.

The Erecha Ritual of Oromos at Bishoftu

Oromos are numerically the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. The Irrecha festivity is celebrated on Sunday that comes following meskel. Irecha means, according to Oromo’s, Thanks giving day to their “Waqa “or God. At national level, Irrecha is an annual ritual of celebrating nature and thanksgiving to their god the creator called Waqa. The celebration involves making offerings on designated big tree and making recitations of good wish, blessing and sprinkling what is considered holy water on the participants.

Erecha is celebrated in many parts of Ethiopia and the most popular one takes place at Bishoftu (Debre Zeit) town 44km south-east of Addis Ababa and by the shores of Lake Hora. Jimma town is another place of Erecha. This ritual is also an occasion where Oromo people of Christian, Muslim and Animist faith groups come together to participate in the ceremony.

Errecha ritual ceremony contains in itself religious, cultural and philosophical world view which admires the miraculous spiritual powers of the waaqa and co –jointly relates the living secrete of generation and is a replica of the Oromo peoples cultural, social, economical and political status. It is a belief in a monotheistic power that is Waaqa. Its ritual ceremony is conducted at different places though by and large it usually takes place at two major areas and seasons. 
Errecha Tullu: - which is performed at the top of the mountains during the dry season. It is performed at the beginning of the spring season when both men and cattle suffer from drought. So, it is the time when the Oromo living in the vicinity are gathered together to pry to their waaqa to give the rain. 

Errech Malka: - that is performed at the river bank in September and is this day’s famous one. The Oromo who live on the highlands areas, start taking their cattle to Hora at this geographical and climatically juncture. So it is the first and a new start in their work and routine lives.

This ceremony is getting increasing popularity among international tourist and this is the case partly because of the availability of many lodge and hotel facilities in the town of Debre Zeit and its proximity to Addis Ababa. 

An Islamic Pilgrimage sites in Ethiopia

Shek Hussien

Shek Hussien Dire is one of the Ethiopia’s most extraordinary sites of Muslim pilgrimages. Located some 592 km southeast of Addis Ababa, Sheikh Hussein is a town in south-eastern Ethiopia. Located in the Bale Zone of the Oromia Region, it has a longitude and latitude of 7°45′N 40°42′E with an elevation of 1386 meters above sea level. 

Sheik Hussein Dire, the town, when the shrine is located and where the celebrations take place, is some 140 km from the city of Bale Goba and some kilometers from the caves of Sof - Omar (another Muslim shrine) and a spirits loci for pilgrimage.

Worshipper in Sof Omar Cave

About Sheik Hussein

13 centuries ago, a Muslim Sheikh Hussein from the Hadramut (a district on the south coast of Arabia, bounded west by Yemen.  He settled and preached Islam and performed many miracles.  His tomb became a shrine, and the shrine became a village named Sheik Hussein after his death. Sheikh Hussein’s tomb is in a large white sepulcher topped by a red-blue dome. The scene at the sepulcher is dramatic and so religious.  It has continued to be the destination of approximately 50,000 pilgrims twice a year during the Muslim months of Hajj and Rabi`al-Awwal. The faithful flock there twice a year from all over Ethiopia as from neighboring countries to visit this complex of mosques, shrines and tombs. The pilgrimage lasts several days. As the final prayers are offered and preparations are made for the long journey home, the pilgrims are spiritually enriched. Their journey has brought spiritual renewal and a welcome break from the harsh realities lives.

Al Nejashi ( Negash Mosque)

Nejashi Mosque one of the oldest in all EthiopiaAl Nejashi is the first mosque in Africa. The mosque was built in the 7th century AD and is considered by many as the second most sacred place of Islamic worship and rightly dubbed by some as “The second Mekkah”.  It located north of Wukro about 60 Kms from Mekelle, the capital of Tigray Regional Stat.

Ethiopia has long enjoyed the most intimate relations Islam. When the early followers of Prophet Mohammed were denied the right to pursue their religion by the Quraysh tribe, the mercantile rulers of Mecca, the prophet had to seek a safe hideout for his followers in order to maintain the survival of his religion.

 The  rule of Ethiopia, or Nejashi, granted asylum to the first refugees, 11men and four wives, who entered his territory in 615. The second Hijira (flight) consisted of 101 Muslims. The Quraysh are said to have asked the Ethiopian ruler to hand over the exiles to them, but this was strongly rejected. Among the refugees were the prophet’s daughter Ruquyya, his future wives Umma Habiba and Umma Salama and his cousin and leader of the religious exiles, Ja’afar Ibn Abu Talib. Many of the Muslims stayed in the end were buried at the sacred village of Negash. The Negashi of the Habersham, as the king is known in the Arab World, died in 630 and was also buried there.

Nejashi Mosque one of the oldest in all Ethiopia

Negash remains Ethiopia’s earliest and most holy Muslim centre, where there is a fine mosque, constructed  recently. Many flock to Negash for pilgrimage once in a year during the 10th day of the month of Moharem. Muslims from  different parts of Ethiopia and abroad attend this two day colorful festival.


Islamic festivals have a special meaning Muslims of Ethiopia because of the historical like. Ramadhan is one of the holiest periods in the Islamic calendar. Life changes dramatically during Ramadhan. After breaking their fast at sun-down, people stay awake until early hours, feasting, visiting friends and praying. At dawn they eat the meal that will last them until sunset. At the end of Ramadhan, the festival of Idd-ul-Fitr is celebrated. In Ethiopia, the holiday is most colorfully celebrated at Gurage Zone and Addis Ababa.


Eid al-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى‎ ‘Īdu l-’Aḍḥā) "Festival of Sacrifice" or "Greater Id" is a holiday celebrated by Muslims (including the Druze) worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. The feast of the sacrifice- this occurs at the end of hajj on the tenth day of Zul hijja, the twelfth month of the Islamic year. Sheep, goats or camels are sacrificed on this great occasion. The joyful crowds throng the mosque for prayers- the world is alive with happiness.

Eid al-Adha is the latter of two Eid festivals celebrated by Muslims, whose basis comes from the Quran.[1] Like Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha begins with a short prayer followed by a sermon (khuṭba).


Harar Jamii Mosque

Mosque in Harar, EthiopiaEthiopia is home to Harar, which according to UNESCO, is "considered 'the fourth holy city' of Islam," with 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines. 

Harar (or Harrar or Harer) is an eastern city in Ethiopia. The city is located on a hilltop at 1885 meters.
For centuries, Harar has been a major commercial centre, linked by the trade routes with the rest of Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula.
Harar Jugol has been listed in the World Heritage by UNESCO. It is "considered 'the fourth holy city' of Islam" with nearly 100 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century.

Harar is also famous for its coffees and the french poet Arthur Rimabud whol ived there. The city is protected by a huge wall, and only few gates allowed people to enter. Nowadays, no more doors, just the Wall!