This is the time of year in which the rainy season has ended in Ethiopia. The grasses are a little bit greener, the Meskel daisies are blooming, and the eucalyptus trees are perfuming the air. It is also the time of year for the Meskel Religious Festival (also known as Finding the True Cross). Jay was lucky enough to witness the Festival this year in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, and I begged him to take pictures so we could share them here. So, this is a special post from Jay about his recent travel to Ethiopia:
As I understand, the history behind the Festival is that it commemorates Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, finding of the True Cross used to crucify Christ. In the 4th Century, the Empress lit incense and prayed for assistance to guide her. The smoke from the incense guided her to the site of the three buried crosses. Empress Helena gave a piece of the cross used to crucify Christ to all the churches, including the Ethiopian Church. Today, the event is marked by this Festival celebrated with prayer, praises, dances, feasting, and ending with a bonfire lit by a person of honor.
I attended the Meskel Eve festival held in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. Thousands of people were in attendance to see the traditional march within the square as they prepared to light a bonfire made of wood and meskel daisies in the center of the square. Priests, deacons, and school children, clothed in traditional robes and dresses, gather in the square and form processions around the bonfire. At dusk the bonfire is lit, and people sing and dance until the fire completely burns out.
A smaller bonfire ceremony was held at the research center where I was staying. Prior to the lighting, people joined in conversation while drinking the traditional honey beverage (tej) and eating a traditional bread.
A bonfire had been built earlier in the day and was made of wood and the Meskel daisies. At the top of the bonfire is a cross adorned with daisies.
At dusk, three dignitaries from the research center lit the bonfire with long torches. As the bonfire burned, people danced around the bonfire while singing traditional songs. The singing and dancing continued until the fire burned out completely. After this, everyone gathered for a traditional Ethiopian meal, and dancing and singing continued until late in the evening.
On the day of Meskel, it is traditional for families to invite their neighbors for coffee and a meal. I was invited to one of my colleague's home where traditional Ethiopian Coffee was prepared along with a meal of roasted meats. It was a great day of sharing and fellowship and I was honored to share this historic holiday with my Ethiopian colleagues.