The Meskel festival is very dear to Ethiopian Christians. This is because it is a classic festival that originated from the ancient city of Addis Ababa. Most importantly, it signifies the discovery of the True Cross of Jesus Christ.
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Here are some fun facts that you didn’t know about this sacred festival:
The word ‘Meskel’ means cross
The word ”Meskel” is from the Ge’ez language that means ”cross”. In other words, this festival primarily means a celebration of the cross.
Meskel is an annual festival celebrated by the Christians
Every year, Christians (visitors and pilgrims alike) gather at the capital on the 27th – or 28th in a leap year – of September to honour the celebrations of the Meskel festival.
Addis Ababa hosts the festival
The main venue of this festival is at the archetypal Meskel square in Addis Ababa. Public dignitaries also grace the event.
History of the discovery of the Cross of Jesus Christ
Roman Emperor Constantine, Queen Helena discovered the Cross of Jesus Christ, which is a sacred artefact in Christianity. She had a dream in which she was divinely instructed to make a bonfire. Queen Helena was told that the smoke of the fire would direct her to where the True Cross of Jesus was buried. She did as instructed and made the bonfire. The smoke rose high up to the sky and returned to the ground, exactly where the Cross had been buried. This was how the annual celebration of the discovery started.
The Demera procession
This is the ritual that opens the annual celebrations. A large parade of Christians gathers at the Meskel square to burn the large bonfire called Demera. And it takes place either on the eve or on the morning of the festival. Peculiar Meskel songs are sung by the people as they surround the bonfire before it completely burns to ashes. The main Meskel festival customarily starts in the afternoon and ends after dusk as the people offer prayers and enjoy the celebrations.
The equivalent of Ash Wednesday
The ash which was completely burnt on the eve of the festival is used to mark a sign of the cross on the foreheads of the devotees assembled to observe the celebrations. Similar to the Ash Wednesday celebration, these markings represent the forgiveness of sins and new beginnings offered as a result of the death of Jesus Christ.
It is a National Festival
The Meskel festival is usually held all over Ethiopia and not just in Addis Ababa. Smaller cities celebrate the festival within their location on a smaller scale. These smaller-scale celebrations are marked by smaller bonfires on the streets. The people later come together to enjoy wine made from honey as well as the common feast of raw minced meat in flat, dry bread.
The significance of the Meskel festival
Humanity’s freedom from sin is one of the major things that the Meskel festival represents. Christians believe that the death of Jesus Christ has made it possible for human beings to form a relationship with God. Therefore, the death of Jesus is an important event that will continue to renew their faith in their religion.