Meskel celebration lights up city
Thousands of Ethiopians and visitors crammed Meskel square in Addis Ababa on Wednesday to celebrate Meskel, one of the country’s colorful Christian festivals.Celebrations started in the early afternoon, when a huge procession bearing flaming torches approaches Maskel square from various directions.Choirs and youths from various Orthodox churches wearing colorful clothes presented songs and shows at the eve of celebration that commemorates the “Finding of the True Cross”, the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Acting Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Nathnael (pictured below, dressed in white) gave benediction and set alight the slender bonfire at the city’s principal square, found near the church of Saint Estifanos. The huge bonfire (Demera in Amharic) re-enacts the finding of the True Cross, and followed by a beautiful display of fireworks that light up the sky and faces of the hundreds of thousands of spectators.
According to the story, St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, went to Jerusalem to look for the true cross. There, she was advised to light a fire, and the smoke pointed to the place where the cross was buried. St. Helena then gave pieces of the cross to all the Orthodox churches. The Ethiopian Church still claims to have its own piece, but it is hidden from public view at the monastery of Gishan Mariam in Wollo. In this monastery is a massive volume called the Tefut, written during the reign of Zera Yakob (1434-1468), which records the story of how a fragment of the Cross was acquired.In the Middle Ages, it relates, the Christian Monarchs of Ethiopia were entreated to protect the Coptic minorities and wage punitive wars against their persecutors. Their reward was usually gold, but instead the Emperor Dawit asked for a fragment of the True Cross from the patriarch of Alexandria. He received it at Maskal.
A short drama featuring Saint Helena with a crown on her head as empress was presented on the occasion to show indebtedness for the finding of the True Cross.
Yesterday morning, on many streets of the city, people have constructed demeras, to burn later. Vast bonfires are lit countrywide the night before the celebration, and on the day itself there are dances and feasting for everyone. The festival coincides with the mass blooming of the golden yellow ‘mesekel daises’, called Adey Abeba in Amharic. Thousands of people lined Meskel Square all holding up burning wax sticks in the darkness.
Even for non-believers, Meskel offers an excuse to celebrate with bonfires and parties. It also coincides with celebrations of the Ethiopian calendar’s New Year, the end of the long, dark rainy season and the return of sunshine and light. In southern parts of Ethiopia, the huge bonfires is combined with special feast food called Kitfo (minced meat mixed with butter) to bring together thousands of people for family reunions.