Sunday, 2 October 2016

Ethiopia's most colourful festival?

The end of my stay in Ethiopia coincided with one of the country's most colourful festivals, Meskel (known in English as the Finding of the True Cross or sometimes as the Exaltation of the True Cross). According to Ethiopian tradition St Helena was looking for Christ's cross in the 4th century when she was told in a dream to light a large bonfire - she did as instructed, added frankincense to the blaze, and watched as the smoke rose into the sky then returned to the ground. She started digging where the smoke touched the ground and discovered the cross. 
Every September 26, on the eve of Meskel, Ethiopians gather by the thousands to dance, pray, chant, make music and light tall, tapering bonfires. I went to the biggest celebration of them all, on Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. The security was over the top (I've never been frisked so much in my life) and I kept being turned back by jumpy policemen, but on the fourth attempt I got through the police lines. Once on the square I was spotted by a friendly soldier who ushered me to a front-row seat. 
Thousands of people took part in the celebrations which culminated in the lighting of a large bonfire in the middle of the square while the crowd lit candles, prayed and sang. It was an amazing spectacle. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story...

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