Ethiopia Timket (Epiphany) Celebration

Ethiopia Timket (Epiphany) Celebration

Timket’ is a Ge’ez word meaning “immersion in water” similar to the Baptism of Jesus Christ. The word also denotes epiphany which is driven from the Greek word epiphaneia meaning “appearance”. The annual Timket celebration is held across Ethiopia on Tir 11 E.C (January 19 G.C) with processions of priests carrying replicas of the Ark of Covenant, locally known as ‘Tabot’, escorted by thousands of believers. The day is observed in commemoration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River.The festive lasts two days, the 18th (the eve of Timket) and the 19th 0f January, even extending to a third day where there is Tabots dedicated to Archangel Michael whereby celebrated the feast of the miracle of Jesus at the wedding of Cana.

The Origin of Timket Festival in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has been following the teachings of the apostles and started celebrating epiphany at the national level in 530 AD during the reign of Emperor Gebre Meskel. In 1140 AD, king and priest Lalibela made an amendment to the existing tradition of the Epiphany celebration by which he made a decree that urged all Arks of covenant (Tabots) to be carried to a river or pool together to bless the waters.

In 1426 AD, following a proposal from scholars, Emperor Zer’a Ya’ekob declared that the Tabots be taken to nearby pools on the eve (January 18) and stay the night there blessing the nation. In 1486 AD, Emperor Naod also made an order that the Tabots be escorted by the faithful in colorful processions.

The Eve of Timket

The eve of Timket is known by the two major events: Ketera and Gehad. Following those traditions, the Tabots are taken to rivers and pools early afternoon on the eve of Timket, which is known as “Ketera” meaning ‘making a reservoir for the celebration’. Each Tabot is carried overhead by a high priest to the nearby body of water accompanied by thousands of church members chanting hymns. The celebration is also augmented by spiritual dancing (known as Shibsheba), drum beating, horn blowing, prayer stick waving and sistra rattling.

Around 3 Pm, the chiming of church bells signals the appearance of the Tabot and excitement mounts among the awaiting crowds. The head priest emerges bearing the Tabot on his head secluded from public view by a velvet cloth embroidered with gold and silver. Other priests hold ceremonial umbrellas above the Tabot for adoration as well as to protect it from sun and rain. Women ululate, youths cheer, and crowds applaud to the rhythm of drum beat. The procession circles the church and sets off, preceded by Sunday school choirs. Priests carry swaying censors, deacons beat drums, and groups of youths sing and dance, while musicians blow trumpets and play string instruments.

The festive procession is said to symbolize the journey of Jesus from Galilee to the River Jordan described in Mathew chapter three and has also been linked to Biblical scenes of David dancing around the Ark described in Samuel chapter six.The procession turns into a massive human river in which participants are swept along with the joyous tide. Once the Tabots are safely installed in their tents the service begins with the patriarch’s (head priest’s) benediction. Choirs form two parallel lines and perform their rhythmic swaying dances, moving towards each other and parting again raising and lowering their sistra in one hand and their prayer sticks in the other, to the beat of the drummer in the middle who gradually increases the tempo, finally reaching a frenzied climax

Throughout the night sermons in relation to the Baptismal of Jesus, singing, dancing and praying to continue. The Kiddase (Divine Liturgy) is administered near the pools early in the morning. Passages from the story of the Baptism of Jesus Christ recited from the four Gospels at the cardinal points of the pool. The Patriarch (head priest) dips his cross to bless the water. Three candles are floated on a water of wood in the baptismal pool, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The water is then blessed and sprinkled towards the assembled congregation, some of whom immerse themselves in the water, symbolically renewing their baptismal vows.

Return from Timket Bahir

on the second day of the Celebration he crowd escorts the return journey of Tabots, which circle their respective church before entering the Mekdes, the Holy of Holies. Only the Tabots of St Michael remains a further night there, since its feast is on the following day, associated with the first miracle of Jesus, the Wedding of Cana.

Timket Festival in Gondar

In Gondar, the bathing palace of Fasiledas is still dedicated to this colorful ceremony. It is still filled with water each year by a canal from the River Keha for the colorful Timket celebration. Besides the baptism of Jesus Christ, the celebration of Timket in Gondar also commemorates the re-baptizing of thousands of people who have converted from Catholicism to the Orthodox faith. Even though Gondar can be visited at anytime of the year, the city is a wonderful place of visit during this season as it gives one a chance to witness the colorful ceremonies of the timket Festival.

Timket is also the most important festival of rejoicing, coming at a time of plenty after the harvest. People dress in their best new clothes; according to a popular saying in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, ‘ለጥምቀት ያልሆነ ቀሚስ ይበጣጠስ’ – a dress not used for Timket deserves to be torn to tatters.

In addition to the fasting and feasting , the jubilant processions and the baptismal ceremony, coming as it does in the wedding season, Timket is also known as an occasion for romance and betrothal. It is said that in the countryside a young man would throw a lemon to girl he choose to be his fiancee at Timket and by accepting his gift she would signal his interest in him.

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