Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and Eritrea Sunday celebrated the Meskel festival, commemorating the founding of the true cross on which Jesus was crucified.The colorful celebration was held two weeks after the East African country welcomed the year 2014 with hope for national harmony and peaceful coexistence.
The Ethiopian Orthodow Tewahdo Church held a procession at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa in the attendance of President Sahelework Zewdie and mayor of Addis Ababa, Adanech Abiebie.
Sunday’s procession saw participants including priests and students dressed in long white religious robes and head gears amid singing of spiritual songs while they circle the bonfire which is fuelled by firewood decorated with daisies and Ethiopian prior to the celebration.
The annual event which falls on September 27 or September 28 in a leap year commemorates the fourth century discovery by Roman Empress Saint Helena (Queen Eleni) of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
The festival is also celebrated by Eritrean Orthodox churches. It is marked by the burning of a large bonfire and a procession (Demera) which witnesses tens of thousands of adherents and tourists gather at Meskel Square.
The bonfire and procession commemorates the belief that Queen Eleni – as she is called by the Orthodox churches – was directed to the true cross through a dream in which she was told to start a bonfire and follow the smoke to where the cross was buried.
Ashes from the remains of the fire are collected the next day and used to mark the foreheads of the faithful with the sign of the cross. A feast is held afterwards. It is also held in Eritrea’s capital Asmara and other parts of the country.
The Meskel festival in Ethiopia is one of the country’s most important occasions. Celebrated with a huge bonfire, it is a cultural experience that is highly recommended for visitors from overseas.
Ethiopia follows a different calendar to the rest of the world, with the Ethiopian New Year falling on the 11th of September, or the 12th of September in leap years.