Exclusive Ethiopian Holidays you should not miss

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Need some holiday retreat? Jumia Travel, Africa’s leading online hotel booking company have hand-picked the best spots in Ethiopia for that last minute getaway. This horn of Africa wing is most people’s first choice when planning a holiday and justifiably so. Refreshing beaches, exclusive cuisines all year round, sunshine and a variety of historical destinations, resorts and landscapes to suit all tastes. It is the ultimate holiday destination. Although there are endless places to discover and explore in this diverse area of Ethiopia, here are few major celebrations you can’t miss.

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Fasika (Easter)

If you enjoy holiest and traditional church ceremonies you are in great luck. Fasika Ethiopian Easter is celebrated on 1st of May in memory of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Easter Eve, Ethiopian Christians go to church for all night long services, where revelers participate in a colorful traditional clothing and candles. The following day, families and friends celebrate Fasika with special feasts. One of the most common symbols allied with Easter is the lamb associated with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. The joyous festival reflects the liberation from death represented by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Celebration starts with Good Friday by fasting and prayer remembering the day Jesus was nailed on the cross. The entire city takes part in the event, accompanied by thousands of travelers coming to experience the celebration of the Holy Week. The Easter Festival is a wonderful time to travel to Ethiopia to experience the fusion of over 80 ethnic groups’ culture and religion. Good Friday, then, is the day for mourning and sorrow at midnight. Church bells announce the Resurrection moment of great joy that finally finds its culmination on Sunday. After the long phase of fast and prayer, the faithful eat their Easter lamb and enjoy holidays distinctive dishes like doro stew with boiled eggs, chopped collard greens,  kitfo (minced raw beef), tibs (traditionally seasoned and fried meat), gored (cubed raw meat) often served with spice and ayibe (crumble cheese) as a side dish to ease the spicy food. There are many delicacies depending on type, size and shape of the meat marinated with several spicy powders adding flavor. Celebration follows with ornate coffee and food serving ceremony at a large get-together of family and friends. The coffee ceremony is conducted by a woman, dressed in the traditional costume of a white dress.

Enkutatash

Enkutatash (gift of jewels) marks the Ethiopian New Year based on the Coptic calendar of Julian calculation. There is eight-year gap between Ethiopian calendar and that of the world which follows the Gregorian calendar.

Enkutatash signifies the end of the rainy season and arrival of the sunny weather. The tradition dates back 3,000 years to commemorate the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia and Yemen, who visited King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem. She had gifted Solomon with 120 talents of 4.5 tons of gold as well as unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia, her chiefs welcomed her with enku (jewels). This remained to be the symbol of the Ethiopian New Year.

The Ethiopian New Year (zemenmelewecha) falls on the 12th of September when the rainy season ends. After enkutatash, the sun comes out to shine all day long creating an atmosphere of dazzling warmth. Highlands and fields turn to gold and green with the yellow daisies (adeyeababa) and long grasses (ketema).

The big festivity starts on the eve by sending out the old year and preparing special meals. The first day of the New Year begins with families gathering together to give thanks and to welcome the New Year. The day incorporates special clothing’s. Women wear bright hued vestments called yehabsesh kemis and gold and silver jewelries while the men wear a sparkling white traditional garment called yehagerlibse.

It is a day of unity, forgiveness, love and a time to plan for future. This spring festival has been celebrated since the early times with dancing, singing and loud music which can be heard from homes, restaurants and city malls. During the eve, people gather together in front of their compound gates and ignite (chibo) bonfires to symbolize the ushering in of the New Year.

Zemenmelewecha feasts include several traditional meals and breads including difo dabo, kocho, hibest, and anbasha. The day is celebrated with a variety of spicy stews of beef, lamb, fish, doro stew (chicken with boiled eggs), zemamochet (seasoned chopped collard greens), kitfo (minced raw beef), tibs (traditionally seasoned and fried meat), gord gored (cubed seasoned raw meat). These meals often served with spice and ayibe (crumble traditionally fermented cheese) as a side dish to ease the spicy food.

The day also involves singing and dancing in public. Young women dressed in hebesha kemesi (traditional cotton dress) and traditional hair braid sing around the village giving freshly picked bouquets of flowers and paintings to each household portraying the unique culture. The girls will be given difo dabo or money to show appreciation of their song and gifts.

The Ethiopian New Year continues to be celebrated for 17 consecutive days with people greeting each other with enkuanaderseachew (welcome to the New Year). The celebration is concluded with Meskel, which is another bigger event of the Ethiopian tradition.

Meskel

Unique to Ethiopia, Meskel (Cross) is the magnificent carnival celebrated for two days beginning September 27th. It is one of the most colourful festivals celebrated by local Christians for more than 1600 years. It marks the bright warm weather at the end of the rainy season. It involves dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire to commemorate the discovery of the “true cross” on which Jesus Christ was  crucified.

The holiday is based on the belief that happened around 330 AD, when Queen Helena (known in Ethiopia as Nigist Eleni) mother of Rome’s first emperor, Constantine found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. In accordance with a revelation she had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. The smoke rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross had been buried. Fragments of the cross were distributed to churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it is now said to be buried at Gishen Mariam, about 70 kilometers northwest of Dessie town.

On the eve, thousands of people gather at Meskel Square named after the event, to watch the ceremonial lighting of fire and worship. Ethiopians from across the country and visitors from around the world carry yellow daisies, wooden crosses and wax candles as the pile of wood burned down to the pavement. The national festival marks the end of the rainy season and arrival of the daylong shining sun which is represented by daisies bright yellow blossoms that flourish across the country. The day is also celebrated with traditional special dishes of food and drink.

The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church orchestrates the lightening ceremony. After the bonfires are lit, singing begins around them until the entire fire becomes ashes. Believers mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross using ashes from the fire to symbolize the day. Priests, worship teams and the public in ritual clothing sing around the bonfire for hours. Smaller bonfires will also be lit after sunset throughout the country in backyards and on street corners as villagers continue celebrating throughout the night.

The bonfires splinters from the bundles of burning wood has significance whereby eastern fall out represents peace and prosperity. During the closing of the Demera, rain is expected to fall to help put the fire out. If the rain falls and the fire is extinguished, there is a belief that the year will be prosperous.  This colorful stunning festival is celebrated in huge gathering and fabulous ceremonies at the famous Meskel Square, Bahir Dar, Gonder, Axum, and Lalibela. As the public celebrates Meskel, Ethiopia continues to push to register the festival at UNESCO as an exclusive cultural celebration which survived for thousands of years.

Timket

Special to Ethiopia, this colorful three-day annual carnival, Timket is celebrated on the 21st of January to commemorate Christ’s baptism. The celebration dates back to the 16th century and involves laying long red carpets on streets, worshiping, feasting and procession. During this religious festival, the streets are filled with pilgrims who come to re-enact the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River and take a dip in the holy waters. The celebration is also a time when people meet their future significant others.

Celebration begins on the 19th of January which is known as Ketera meaning eve of Timket. On this day the Tabots, a model of the Ark of the Covenant, is carried by chosen priests in a procession to the blessed water. The Tabots is wrapped in silk clothing placed on the heads of priests, who parade the streets. The priests, clad in ceremonial clothing, are escorted by the jubilating crowd as they make their way to the baptism location.

Dressed in the dazzling white (habesha libise) traditional clothing, people march several streets following the models of the Ark of Covenant to pay their respect. Priests sprinkle the holy water on the large crowed in commemoration of Christ’s baptism while others are dipped into the pool while fully dressed to get baptized.

On the celebration day, numerous people gather at Jal meda in Addis Ababa to watch the ceremonial baptism and worship. Ethiopians from across the country and visitors from around the world gather in celebration centres to enjoy the stunning festivity. A special tent is setup where each Tabot rests as members of the church and the public loudly sing and worship with the accompaniment of traditional music instruments. This breathtaking festival is celebrated in the famous Gonder, Lalibela and in the capital city Addis Ababa.

As one part of the unique feature of the celebration, people attend the carnival looking their best to meet future possible spouses. In ancient times, the day used to represent an important day for a man to identify the women he will marry from the large crowd. The tradition is kept to this day, allowing men and women to identify a person whom they find attractive. The festival culminates with the priests delivering the final service, taking the Tabots back inside the church.

From holidays to exclusive UNESCO registered sights, there is always a lot more to enjoy in Ethiopia, the land of bread and honey.

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