On January 19 Ethiopia is lit up by Epiphany, or Timkat in Amharic, meaning “the baptism”. Timkat celebrates the baptism of Jesus, and is one of the holiest festivals of the year. Starting from around 4 PM on Sunday, the holiday goes on until Tuesday. Since I almost missed Christmas entirely about two weeks ago, everybody has been telling me that I have to go see this one. Go to Timkat, they said, so I went.
I went on Monday, which was a national holiday. The most energetic action took place in Janmeda, a vast open field in north Addis Ababa, which doubles as a horse race track, soccer fields and religious ground. It’s one the biggest festival grounds in the country. The crowd started to gather at around 8 AM, and events culminated in the procession of Tabots, models of the Ark of the Covenant. Of course, just like the real Ark said to be held in Aksum, Ethiopia, you simply cannot see it. Instead, they were meticulously wrapped in lavish clothes and carried by priests on top of their heads.
Janmeda is a huge place, but the turn out is even more staggering. People easily filled this place that dwarfs a NFL stadium. My estimation is there’s probably 100,00 people there all day, not including street celebrators on the pedestrian boulevards outside. Understandably, an occasion this scale can soon get overwhelming and confusing to a bystander like me. I managed to make out the holy water splashing ceremony representing baptism, the announcing and blessing of Tabots, and the hymns sang by pupils. But not all rituals were religious. Many of the vividly dressed families looked more like casual fair-goers. Everybody was smiling, everybody was in a great mood. The heated soccer matches, Ethiopian-style piñata bashing, and the cries of happy and grumpy kids evidently turn the holiday into a sure carnival for all.
Here are some pictures. For the full set please check out my Flickr.
For more pictures see Flickr.