Timket – the Feast of Epiphany
Timket, Ethiopia’s Feast of the Epiphany, is one of the highest and holiest holidays in the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian calendar and is celebrated on 19th January every year. This year as usual, it was celebrated in enthusiastic style with three days of festival, beginning on the eve of Timket with awe-inspiring processions.
The word Timket, from the Ge’ez word Asteryo meaning “to reveal”, refers to the revelation associated with the Church’s theology which is the unity of God the father, the son and the Holy Ghost during the baptism of Christ.
Ketera – 18th January
The celebration of Timket starts on the afternoon of 18th January, known as ’Ketera’, which refers to the making of a dam, as it is common to make a dam in places where there is no river water for the celebration of Timket. The “Tabot ” (replica of the Ark of the Covenant) is taken out of each church and borne aloft by high priests to the nearest river, lake or pond where the communal baptism is to take place the next day.
The procession is attended by chanting and dancing crowds in dazzling white traditional dress, which contrasts with the colours of the ceremonial robes and sequined velvet umbrellas of the priests. The Tabots stay overnight near the water and ceremonies continue overnight.
The main Timket celebration starts the next morning, when the ceremony begins with pre-sunrise rituals, which include the Kidane (Morning Prayer) – ኪዳን and the Kidasie (the divine clergy) – ቅዳሴ. Then follows the blessing and sprinkling of blessed water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ’s baptism.
It takes the better part of the day before the procession breaks up to return the Tabots to the churches in the afternoon. By afternoon, all the Tabots (except the Tabot from St. Michael’s Church), are returned to their churches in a procession with the priests and young people animated and leaping like King David in the Bible.
Archangel Michael Day – 20th January
The Tabot consecrated in the name of Archangel Michael remains and the next day is one of the three big annual celebrations to commemorate Archangel Michael. On this day the Tabot from St. Michael’s Church is returned accompanied by a cheerful crowd who sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.
Timket is celebrated across the country, but many consider that Gondar offers the best experience. Travel writers Daisy Carrington and Aja Harris express the relevance of Gondar in the celebration of Timket as follows:
“France has Lourdes, India has the Ganges and Ethiopia, meanwhile, has Gondar.”
In Gondar, Timket starts with smaller ceremonies at many churches, followed by colourful parades of choirs and priests, accompanied by the entire populace converging at the piazza (ፒያሳ). Their final destination is Fasilades’ Bath.
Timket is also celebrated in Addis Ababa at Jan Meda (the horse-racing track of imperial days) and in Axum, at the Bath of the Queen of Sheba.
What is unique about it?
The Ethiopian Orthodox church has celebrated Timket since the fourth century. This three-day observance is a study in contrasts: deep solemnity of faith intermixed with exuberance make it unique; it differs from other epiphany celebrations across the world.
For Ethiopians, Timket is the most important religious festival of the year, and traditionally, it is known as an important occasion for young adults to choose their would-be lovers.
Ethiopia was named the world’s best destination for tourists in 2015 by the European Council on Tourism and Trade.
Ethiopia wears its ancient past with pride in the many festivals observed such as Genna (Christmas), Meskel (Finding the True Cross), Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year), Fasika (Easter), and many Muslim religious festivities.
Generally the festivities passed off peacefully this year, but there were clashes in Woldiya town in the north which resulted in some fatalities for the first time ever.
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