Festivals

Meskel Finding of the True Cross

Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)

Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), one of the major Ethiopian Orthodox festivals is celebrated for two days . Legend has it that in the year 326, Queen Helena (Empress Helen) the Mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the cross upon which Christ was crucified. Unable to find the Holy Sepulchre, she prayed for help and was directed by the smoke from a burning fire as to where the cross was buried. After unearthing the Holy Cross, Queen Helena lit torches heralding her success. In the Middle Ages, the Patriarch of Alexandria gave the Ethiopian Emperor Dawit half of the Meskel (Finding of the True Cross) in return for protection afforded to the Coptic Christians. A fragment of the True Cross is reputedly held at the Gishen Mariam, about 70 kilometers northwest of Dessie.

Marked with feasting, dancing, and lively religious processions, the occasion usually starts on the eve of Meskel with the preparing of a cone-shaped bonfire in town squares and markets. Long tree branches are tied together and yellow daisies called Meskel Flowers are placed on top.

The branches are gathered together in a bundle called "Demera" and set ablaze by the procession of priests, believers, religious and political leaders. The people toss flaming torches which they are carrying at the "Demera", singing a special Meskel song as they circle it. Around individual homes, little "Demeras" are built as well.

The "Demera" burns until it turns entirely into ashes. As it burns and collapses, the direction in which the "Demera" falls is interpreted as a sign or portent. Rain is usually expected to fall to put out the fire and when it does, the year is expected to be a prosperous one. In most villages, the celebration continues throughout the night.

The next day, which is the actual Meskel, people often go to the spot of the "Demera" and use the ashes to mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross.

One of the significant occurrences of the festival is the coinciding with the mass blooming of Meskel Flowers, the golden-yellow daisies.

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