In Ethiopia, Meskel holds immense significance as a widely recognized public holiday, even earning a coveted spot on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Meskel Festival in Ethiopia takes place on September 27th, coinciding with the nation’s post-rainy season beauty, characterized by vibrant flowers in full bloom and the hills around Addis Ababa adorned with daisy-like yellow blossoms.
The festivities kick off in earnest on September 26th, the eve preceding the festival. Families across the country come together to construct the ‘demera,’ a tall structure meticulously fashioned from twigs, resembling the legendary fiery tree that, according to legend, guided Helena to the discovery of the cross.
Once the demera is complete, a cross crafted from demera flowers adorns its pinnacle, and families eagerly return home in anticipation of the upcoming celebrations.
On the morning of Meskel, communities gather in local churches for a unique liturgical ceremony. In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Meskel Square emerges as a central gathering place. As the square gradually fills with attendees, it bursts to life with colorful umbrellas featuring intricate gold details and patterns.
When the square brims with participants, the clergy lead the revelry, filling the semicircular stadium with joyful cheers as the mass concludes.
At this point, the head of each household acquires a bull or goat for a sacrificial ritual. As the crimson blood flows onto the ground, the men partake in a shot of traditionally brewed alcohol, believed to ward off malevolent forces.
Ensuring that the sacrificial animal falls to the right is of utmost importance; any deviation from this tradition requires immediate correction, as folklore warns of inviting a curse upon the family.
By late afternoon, families gather around their own demeras, engaging in the singing of traditional folk songs and hymns, while younger family members participate in rhythmic dances, circling the stick structures that now adorn garden walls across the nation.
As night falls, the demeras are set ablaze, and the dancing intensifies around the rising flames, casting plumes of smoke into the midnight sky.
Subsequently, as the demeras smolder and burn down, families often collect the remaining ashes to mark themselves with a cross, symbolizing their profound devotion to God.
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