Ethiopian Festivals


Ethiopia has a number of festivals, many of them unique. Timket (the Feast of Epiphany), Falling on 19th January, is the greatest festival of the year, followed in importance by Meskel(Finding of the True Cross) on 27th September. Easter is the most solemn of festivals but the Enkutatash(Ethiopian New Year) falls on 11th September in the Western calendar.


Christmas is celebrated on 7th January. Among the most unusual of the country’s festivals are Kulubi Gabriel, Sheikh Hussein, Gishen Mariam, and Sof Omar. Crowds pray for health, for a new baby, for a special favor or a good harvest, or to give thanks for wishes already granted..


Enkutatash/New Year

September 11, on the Western calendar, is both Ethiopia’s New Year’s Day and the Feast of St john the Baptist. The day is called Enkutatash meaning the ‘gift of jewels’, when the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit king Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with fuku, or jewels.

The spring festival has been Celebrated since these early times and as the rains come to their abrupt end, dancing and singing can be heard at every village in the green countryside.           

After dark on New Year’s Eve people light fires outside their houses, and rush around with flaming torches, celebrating the passing of the old year and the coming of the New Year. Traditionally young girls would prick a special kind of grass, called engicha or Enqwutatash in honour of the event, and would go round singing new-year messages of good will, and presenting the grass to whomever they met and would be reciprocated with a modest gift. New Year’s Day in Ethiopia as in many other countries is thus a time of tradition.


Meskel/Finding of The True Cross

Meskel, second in importance only to Timket, has been celebrated in the country for over 1,600 years. The feast commemorates the discovery of the Cross, upon which Jesus was crucified, by the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The feast is celebrated on 27 September.

On the eve Meskel tall branches are tied together and yellow daisies, popularly called Meskel flowers, are placed at the top. During the night these branches are gathered together in front of the compound gates and ignited. This symbolises the actions of Empress Helena who, when no one would show her the Holy Sepulcher, lit incense and prayed for help. Where then smoke drifted she dug and found three crosses. To one of them, the True Cross, many miracles where attributed.



The Ethiopian Christmas, also called Li det, is not the primary religious and secular festival that it has become in Western countries. Falling on 7th January, it I celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night, with people moving from one church to another. Traditionally, young men played a game that is similar to hockey, called Genna, on this day and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.


Timket, Feast of Epiphany is the greatest festival of the year, falling on 19 January, less than two weeks after Ethiopian Christmas. It is a three-day affair, beginning on the eve of Timket with dramatic and colorful processions. The following morning, the great day itself, Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist is commemorated. The third day is devoted to the Feast of St Michael, the archangel, one of Ethiopia’s most popular saints.
                Enormous effort is put into the occasion. Tej and tella (Ethiopian mead and beer) are brewed, special bread is baked, and sheep are fattened for slaughter. Gifts are prepared for the children and new clothes purchased or old clothes mended and laundered. Everyone – men, women and children – appears resplendent for the three day celebration.

                On the eve of 18 January, Ketera, the priests remove the tabots from each church and bless the water of the pool or river where the next day’s celebration will take place. It is the tabot (symbolizing the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments) rather than the church building which is consecrated and accorded extreme reverence.The feast is celebrated throughout the country and the best places to observe this occasion are Addis Ababa, sheik Hussein and Gondar.

The Ark of The Covenant
The Ark of Covenant

                In Axum the original Ark of the Covenant is said to be housed in a well-guarded chapel of the Church of St-Mary of Zion. A replica or symbol of the Ark of the Covenant, known as tabot, occupies pride of place in the holy of holies of every Ethiopian Orthodox Church. These replicas – which derive their sanctity from their relationship to the true and original Ark still believed by Ethiopians to be kept at Axum are so important that no church is considered consecrated without one.

The Ark was previously held in an ordinary Church   on an island in Lake Tana where it remained for 800 years before being moved to Axum’s original  St. Mary of Zone chapel.

Sheik Hussein
sheik Hussein


The last stop on the circular historic route is sheik Hussein, known as the eighth wonder of the world. This is a legendary city carved solid rock. It is just as remarkable close up as it is at a distance. it is the camouflaged, chameleon quality, however, that gives the remote underground settlement its special and lasting place in the life of the highlands.

Here, some 800 years ago, safe from prying eyes and plundering hands of hostile interlopers a noble king fashioned a secret marvel. sheik Hussein, previously known as Roha, is named after the king. Legend says that the churches were built at greet speed with help of angles.



Ethiopia has long enjoyed the most intimate relations with 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 these followers in order to maintain the survival of his religion.

                The then ruler of Ethiopia, or Nejahsi, granted asylum to the first refuges, 11 men and four wives, who entered his territory in 615. The second Hijira (fight) consisted of 101 Muslims. The Quraysh are side to have asked the Ethiopia ruler to hand over the exiles to them, but these future wives Umma Habiba and Umma Salama and his cousin and leader or the religious exiles, ja’afar Ibn Abu Talib. Many of the Musilms stayed in the country until they died and in the end were buried at the sacred village of Negash, north of Wurkro about 60 Kms from Mekelle, the capital of Tigray Regional State.

The Nejashi of the Habashat, as the king is known in the Arab World, died in 630 and was also buried there Nejashi remains Ethiopia’s earliest and most holy Muslim centre, where thee is a fine mosque, constructed recently, Many flock to Nejashi for pilgrimage once in a year during the 10th day of the month of Moharem. Muslims from different parts ofEthiopia and abroad attend this two day colorful festival.

Islamic Festivals

Islamic festivals have a special meaning for Muslims of Ethiopia because of the historical link. Ramadhan is one of the holies 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.