Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO)
One of the most traditional celebrations that exist in Ethiopia is the Meskel festival. Every September 17 of the Ethiopian calendar (September 26 and 27 of the Gregorian calendar), Ethiopians commemorate the discovery of the True Cross, a celebration that begins the day before with numerous processions that arrive from the churches with the aim of surrounding a wooden construction decorated with yellow daisies and a cross known in Ethiopian tradition as “Damera”. As the sun sets, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church lights the wood and opens the annual celebration of the Meskel holiday.
Tradition tells that, in the 4th century, Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, had a revelation in one of her dreams. In it he was told that he should light a large bonfire and the direction the smoke took would guide him to find the way where the true cross was. Upon awakening, he did so and the smoke showed him the right path where the cross was buried. Saint Helena gave a piece of the True Cross to all the churches, including the Ethiopian Church.
According to Ethiopian legend, when people approach the piece of the Vera Cruz they are naked because of its powerful light. Because of this, the decision was made to bury her on the mountain of the Gishen Mariam Monastery in the Wollo region. In this monastery there is a book where the history of the Vera Cruz and how it got there is written.
The day after Damera is Meskel. The festival is celebrated with a lot of color and preparing a lot of food. Believers make crosses on their heads with the ashes of the bonfire as a sign of devotion. Meskel’s yellow daisies also represent a new beginning after the rainy season.
In all major cities the ceremony is celebrated with a lot of color, but the best place to celebrate Meskel is still the capital, Addis Ababa.