Unique to Ethiopia, Meskel (Cross) is the magnificent carnival celebrated for two days beginning September 27th. It is one of the most colourful festivals celebrated by local Christians for more than 1600 years. It marks the bright warm weather at the end of the rainy season. It involves dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire to commemorate the discovery of the “true cross” on which Jesus Christ has been crucified. Jovago.com, Africa’s leading online hotel booking website give you a glimpse of the magnificent celebration.
The holiday is based on the belief that happened around 330 AD, when Queen Helena (known in Ethiopia as Nigist Eleni) mother of Rome’s first emperor, Constantine found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. In accordance with a revelation she had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. The smoke rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross had been buried. Fragments of the cross were distributed to churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it is now said to be buried at Gishen Mariam, about 70 kilometers northwest of Dessie town.
On the eve, thousands of people gather at Meskel Square named after the event, to watch the ceremonial lighting of fire and worship. Ethiopians from across the country and visitors from around the world carry yellow daisies, wooden crosses and wax candles as the pile of wood burned down to the pavement. The national festival marks the end of the rainy season and arrival of the daylong shining sun which is represented by daisies bright yellow blossoms that flourish across the country. The day is also celebrated with traditional special dishes of food and drink.
The breathtaking admirable ceremony starts with constructing Demera (bonfires) topped by daisies and cross. The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church orchestrates the lightening ceremony. After the bonfires are lit, singing begins around them until the entire fire becomes ashes. Believers mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross using ashes from the fire to symbolize the day. Priests, worship team and the public in ritual clothing sing around the bonfire for hours. Smaller bonfires will also be lit after sunset throughout the country in backyards and on street corners of villagers continuing celebrations throughout the night.
The bonfires splinters from the bundles of burning wood has significance whereby eastern fall out represents peace and prosperity. During the closing of the Demera, rain is expected to fall to help put the fire out. If the rain falls and the fire is extinguished, there is a belief that the year will be prosperous. This colorful stunning festival is celebrated in huge gathering and fabulous ceremonies at the famous Meskel Square, Bahir Dar, Gonder, Axum, and Lalibela. As the public celebrates Meskel, Ethiopia continues to push to register the festival at UNESCO as an exclusive cultural celebration which survived for thousands of years.