29 September 2017

Ethiopia: The Other Aspects of Meskel

The breathtaking festival attracts countless of tourists from across the world.

Sunday school students chants and dances add unique color The massive bonefire and its thinck smoke create joy to the to the festival. congregation apart from lively demonstrating the finding of the true cross.

Two grand celebrations fall in the month of Meskerem (September) in Ethiopia-- New Year falls on September 11 - or on September 12 in a leap year and Meskel on September 27 (28 in leap year).

Ethiopia has been celebrating Meskel--the finding of the true cross-- for over 1,600 years, and it has become one of the most important street festivals.

Yes, each holiday brings joy and hope to the people. The holidays at the same time play vital roles in shaping the new generation as well as building the identity of the youth by helping them to demonstrate their way of doing things (culture) in public. Recently, festivals like Meskel and Timket (commemoration of the baptism of Jesus) are also attracting countless of tourists from around the world, helping the nation promote its remarkable cultural heritages--not to mention the ever increasing foreign earning as a result of it.

Maskel, which literally means Cross, is a UNISCO registered intangible heritage. The holiday begins on the eve called Damara. The following day is a holiday called Maskel. According to Ethiopian Orthodox Church history, in 326AD Queen Helena, the mother of Rome's first Emperor, Constantine prayed for guidance to find the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The answer came to her in a dream. Queen Helena was so concerned about the whereabouts of the Christ's cross that she lit a bonfire and added frankincense to it. The smoke from the incense went up and then came down to one of the mountains. This showed where the true cross was buried. She was directed by the smoke and ordered her subjects to dig out the cross from where it had been buried for years.

There was a time where Christians were persecuted because of their religion. However; in times with the expansion Christianity, it became an official religion in the Roman Empire. All Christians had the chance to practice their faith freely. In this regard, Meskel is not only considered as religious festivity but it is also a symbol of light and the beginning for the rest of their journey.

It gives much pleasure to observe hundreds of orthodox priests and deacons donned in ceremonial regalia, joined by ordinary Ethiopians who adorn themselves with traditional attires, during the event. Indeed, beyond its national and religious features, Meskel signifies the coming to the light from to the darkness. It is a beginning of hope.

Meskel is not only about religious feast, the festival, Damera, which falls on the eve of Meskel has also secular aspects. Ethiopians in many towns, regardless of religious differences, make their way to squares where large bonfire is prepared to enjoy the procession. It is a time that relatives, friends and neighbors come together to spend a joyful time.

Mesqel had been celebrating colorfully for centuries in Ethiopia. But the festivity being observed in the capital Addis Ababa is extremely breathtaking. The festival at Mekel Squere in Addis Ababa is the grand most one by all standards--the presence of Patriarch of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church and other senior public officials and diplomatic corps as well as the uniqueness of the procession could be just to mention but a few.

The festival, whether one celebrates it in Addis or in other towns, clearly demonstrates how Ethiopian's preserve their age-long traditions. It is also a true demonstration on how Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the great, found--as tradition has it-- the true cross.

People in almost all places in Addis Ababa build cone-shaped large piles of wood around a tall pole in the middle with yellow daisies made into the sign of a cross at the top. When the Damera is ablaze people chant religious songs. The people toss flaming torches which they are carrying at the demera, singing a special Meskel song as they circle it.

The Demera burns until it turns entirely into ashes. Eventually, the woods will burn down and the pole collapses, the direction to which the pole lies is interpreted as a sign or portent. Rain is usually expected to fall to put out the fire, and if it does, the year is expected to be a prosperous one. In most villages and towns the celebrations continue through the night.

During the eve of Meskel, it is common to see most Addis's residents preparing themselves for the Demera festivity. What is more, it is common to see several villages in Addis decorated by green, yellow and red pieces of cloth.

Last Tuesday, I had a chance to discuss religious, political and cultural issues with some of my friends. During my stay with my friends, I was able to witness their common value to the procession. It is not related to the religious dogmas. But, the secular features it has would create the bond which could sustain the moment of unforgettable togetherness. That's why Ethiopians are always happy to celebrate holidays together irrespective of their cultural, religious or political differences.

Daniel Fikadu is one of my friends. For him, the festival creates platform particular for the youth to come together and share various idea. He also comments that the event helps Ethiopians from all walks of life to demonstrate their cultures. This will help foster cultural exchanges among the various nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia.

Birhanu Ayele is the other friend of mine. For Birhanu, Meskel festival signifies hope and bright future. After celebrating the New Year, Ethiopians will be ready to start a new journey. People of the same neighborhood prepare Damera. And this further enriches cooperation among them, he says. Not only that, people also uses the opportunity to wish peace and prosperity. And most hopefully, they work together to bring their wishes to reality, he says. "But, we have to use the celebration more than that. It can be a good platform to give solutions to pressing problems in a neighborhood."

At a national level, the holiday can be used to promote Ethiopia's religious, cultural and linguistic diversity. For instance, people in the academic circle can host various symposiums on myriads of issues relating to culture. And this will benefit citizens and tourists to get informed and scientific knowledge on the issues. Exhibitors too can use the Day to display the cultural heritages of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. In this regard, a lot of work seems to await the public and government sectors.


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