FESTIVALS AND HOLIDAYS
Meskel (Finding of the True 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 September 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 symbolises 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.
Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany)
For Ethiopians, Timket is the most important religious festival of the year; for many visitors, it’s the most spectacular. Thousands of Ethiopians travel to their nearby towns to join in the three-day celebration of Epiphany that starts on 18 January each year.
Gena (Ethiopian Christmas)
Gena (Christmas) falls on December 29 Ethiopian calendar (January 7 Gregorian calendar). Gena(Christmas) is celebrated after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), 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).
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 colourful 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).
Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year)
Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) falls on September 1 Ethiopian calendar (September 11 Gregorian Calendar) at the end of the Ethiopian rain season and is called Enkutatash. September 1 is also celebrated to mark the commemoration of Saint John the Baptist. Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) is not only a religious holiday but it also a day for young boys and girls to sing and dance and for exchanging New Year greetings among urban and rural inhabitants.
Fichee Chembelala is a two-day celebration dating back thousands of years, which the Sidama people observe to usher in New Year. This year the festivities took place at the Sidama Cultural Centre, with the usual flair and bang that accompanies this holiday. From the celebrations at the shores of Hawassa to the elderly Ayantos who decide the date of the celebration, there is plenty to see and enjoy during this remarkable longstanding celebration.
There was much to celebrate during this year’s Fichee Chembelala Celebration. During Fichee, on July 13th, Desse Dalke, president of the Southern Nations and Nationalities region, told a packed crowd at the Sidama Cultural Center that Hawassa University graduated the first ever batch of students majoring in Sidama language. With so much excitement engulfing the crowd, the President also added to the celebration by announcing that UNESCO is considering Fichee Chembelala to be registered as one of the intangible world heritages after applying in September 2014.
Fichee Chembelala is one of the main events on the calendar of Hawassa city. A multitude of people are visible on the streets to celebrate the Fichee (Eve) and Chembelala (New Year) festivity of the Sidama people.
The people seen in droves almost everywhere in the city are a center piece of the Chembelala celebration at Gudumalle, shore of Hawassa lake. This event draws people from every place and age group who are draped in colorful traditional clothes while holding unique cultural items like long spears. This really adds to the vibrancy of this festive event.
What makes Fichee Chembelala so special from any other celebration in Ethiopia is that the exact date of the commemoration is not known by the average person, until elders of the communitydetermine and announce when the celebration will occur. These elders are referred to as Ayantos. Ayantos settle on the date of the Fichee Chembelala by reading the stars and sun alignment.
Walking through the crowd there were a variety of people attending the event. Fichee Chembelala gathers not only the people of the region, but also the country and world.