Ethiopian Festivals

Celebrations in Ethiopia are great and colourful events, mostly religious, and frequently take place over several days.

Timkat- Feast of the Epiphany, 19 January This is an extremely colourful three-day festival commemorating the baptism of Christ.The night before, priests take the Tabot (which symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant) containing the Ten Commandments from each Church. Concealed by an ornamental cloth, it is taken to a tent, close to a consecrated pool or stream, accompanied by much ringing of bells, blowing of trumpets and the burning of incense. In Addis Ababa many tents are pitched at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city centre. At 0200 there is a Mass, and crowds attend, with picnics lit by oil lamps. At dawn the priest extinguishes a candle burning on a pole set in a nearby river using a ceremonial cross. Some of the congregation leap into the river. The Tabots are then taken back to the Churches in procession, accompanied by horsemen, while the festivities continue.

Buhe-21 August Bands of small boys call at each house, singing and jostling until they are given some fresh dough (buhe), that is being prepared for baking. In the evening, bonfires are lit outside each home.

Enkutatash -New Year, 11 SeptemberThis festival celebrates both the New Year and the Feast of John the Baptist at the end of the long rains in spring, when the Highlands become covered in wild flowers. Children dressed in new clothes dance through the villages, distributing garlands and tiny paintings. In the evening every house lights a bonfire and there is singing and dancing

Maskal- Finding of the True Cross, 27 September Legend has it that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was discovered in the year 326 by Empress Helen, Mother of Constantine the Great. Unable to find the Holy Sepulchre, she prayed for help and was directed by the smoke of an incense burner to where the cross was buried.

In the Middle Ages, the Patriarch of Alexandria gave the Ethiopian Emperor Dawit half of the True Cross in retum for the protection afforded to the Coptic Christians. A fragment of the True Cross is reputed to be held at the Gishen Marien monastery which is about 70 kilometres to the northwest of Dessie. 

On the day of the festival, bright yellow Maskal daisies are tied into bunches and piled high in town squares. Colourful processions carrying buming torches converge on to the square, where a pyre is lit and the celebrations continue until dawn. In Addis Ababa, the celebrations take place in Maskal Square, to the southeast of the City centre.

Kullubi- Feast of St Gabriel, 28 DecemberSt Gabriel is the Patron Saint who guards over homes and churches. There is a huge pilgrimage to St Gabriel's Church on Kulubi hill, which is on the route from Addis Ababa eastwards, about 70 kilometres before Dire Dawa. Many pilgrims carry heavy burdens as penance, children are brought to be baptized, and offerings are made to be distributed to the poor.

New Years Day (Julian Calendar) 1January

Genna Ethiopian Christmas: birth of Christ) 7 January

Timkat Ethiopian Epiphany: baptism of Christ) 19 January

Adwa Day (commemorates the victory by Menelik II over Italy in 1896) 2 March

Patriots' Day (celebrates end of Italian occupation in 1941) 6 April

International Labour Day 1 May

Ethiopian Good Friday May (variable)

Fasika (Ethiopian Easter Sunday) May (variable)

Idd al Fitr (end of month of fasting for Ramadan) May (variable)

Idd al Adha August (variable)

Buhe 21 August

Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) 11 September


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