Discover Meskerem: Ethiopia’s Festival Season

19 Oct 2017

Meskerem, the first of the thirteen months which comprise the Ethiopian calendar, is quickly gaining traction as an idyllic time to visit the Land of Origins.

Meskerem falls between September 11th and October 10th (Gregorian Calendar), and represents the start of the new year in Ethiopia, symbolising an exciting time of change, thanksgiving and renewal, with the celebration of a series of cultural and religious festivals throughout the month, Meskerem is attracting a growing number of tourists.

The month kicks off with new year’s celebrations, known as Enqutatash, which dates back 3,000 years. Ancient lore points to the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon as the origins of these unique celebrations. Roughly translated as “a gift of jewels”, the term references the reception the Queen received from her subjects following her fabled trip to Jerusalem – they regaled her with jewels to commemorate her journey to and return from the court of King Solomon. Today, these traditions continue with children receiving gifts of money or loaves from their elders and families coming together to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

The festivities are captured by an excerpt from the poem ‘Enkutatash’ by Misrak Terefe:

“… enkutatash – for you – to bloom we bake the bread.
We spread the grass as carpets, flat, we burn the incense, add the plates, the blessed, to celebrate – to celebrate the change.
Enkutatash, if you come – then change, then change us too…”

Misrak Terefe, translated from Amharic by Rike Scheffler

New year represents a time of renewal, as the rainy season subsides leaving behind lush fields blooming with yellow flowers known as the Adey Abeba (Bidens macroptera) which adorn the homes of many Ethiopians throughout Meskerem, and symbolise the spirit of peace, hope and love which arrives with a new year. Complementary themes of peace, reconciliation and thanksgiving are also the foundations of the celebrations of the Meskel and Irreecha festivals held later in the month.

Meskel, a UNESCO-inscribed intangible cultural heritage, is celebrated by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on Meskerem 17 and commemorates the unearthing of the True Holy Cross of Christ. It is the most prominent of these nationwide festivities and is celebrated in the historic Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, where tens of thousands gather to watch the Orthodox processions and the burning of a gigantic demera bonfire.

Meskel in Addis Ababa

During Meskel, believers are urged to resolve the quarrels and disagreements of the past by promoting peace and reconciliation within their communities and renewing their social bonds to one another.

Similarly, the week-long Irreecha cultural festival celebrated by the Oromo people at the end of the month, commemorates the beginning of Spring as a time of reconciliation, unity and thanksgiving. The festival culminates with thanksgiving celebrations at Lake Hora Arsadii, outside Bishoftu city in the Oromia Regional State. Irreecha celebrations attract tens of thousands and are officiated by elders from across the region who bless participants and promote the culture’s ethics of respect, peace and reconciliation. Closely associated with the UNESCO-inscribed Gadaa system, a traditional system of governance practiced by the Oromo, the festival connects participants to the past, through the upholding of their ancestral traditions, and to the future, through their prayers and hopes for an abundant spring harvest.

Irreecha Festival

Contrary to last year, this year Irreecha was peacefully celebrated on the banks of Lake Hora Arsadii by people from across the region. Led by community elders, the festivities passed without incident and saw participants express their gratitude for the blessings of the previous year while renewing their hopes for peace, unity and abundance going forward.

Meskerem has always represented an excellent time to visit Ethiopia and surely stands alone as the perfect time to discover all that the Land of Origins has to offer.

 

 

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