Saints days and festivals in the Ethiopian Calendar.
In the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar saints days reoccur every month – for example St Michael’s day (Mikael) comes on the 12th of each Ethiopian month. On such days a special mass will be said in the appropriate churches, either in the morning or on fasting days in the middle of the day. Most major saints have a bi-annual day (some an annual or even tri-annual day), for example Asteryo Mariam (St Mary) and Sebarea Tsemu Giyorgis (St George) in late January. Such days are effectively a mini festival. Sometimes there is much to see – for example the Tabots (replica of the tablets of stone held in the Ark of Covenant) are paraded and maybe traditional horse competitions (gooks – a kind of Ethiopian joust) are held.
One of the main festivals in the Ethiopian year is Timkat (often confusingly called Ethiopian Epiphany – see the information box at the bottom of the page) which falls on the 19th of January in most years – (but on the 20th Jan in 2012) . This commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John and begins on Timkat Eve (Timkat wazima)- with Tabots being joyfully paraded and taken down to a special place where they will camp for the night. The followers from that church will accompany the procession sometimes with dancing and singing. The priests dress in their best garments and the Tabots are shaded by brocade umbrellas.
In Meket the night is spent drinking local beer (Kurefi) and dancing to the big drums (Kabero). Next morning -Timkat itself- a special mass is said, water is blessed and the splashing begins. This is most famous at Gondar with people jumping into the Fasilidas baths but it is full of tourists. A genuine and intimate version of the events can be seen with the Meket communities who are more than happy to have a few guests join their celebration. Once the water festivities are done the tabots are processed back to their church – all except Mikael whose holy day is the next day and so gets to be joyfully processed back on the day after Timkat. The day following Timkat is also called Kana Zagalila commemorating Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
The other major holidays or festivals celebrated most are
New Year (or Enkutatash) which normally falls on the 11th September, but the 12th in 2011.
Easter (or Fasika) the same date as all other Orthodox churches – a date that moves, and
Meskal – the Finding of the True Cross which falls on the 28th September in most years but the 29th in 2011.
Christmas – Gena
Gena is normally celebrated on the 7th January but in 2012 it will be celebrated on the 8th everywhere except Lalibela where it will remain on the 7th. It is the catalyst of a major pilgrimage to Lalibela with upwards of 20,000 pilgrims descending on Lalibela, coming on foot across the countryside over the days leading up to Gena. The pilgrims mostly sleep outside the church compound wrapped in gabbis (cotton shawls) prior to the ceremony that starts before dawn on Christmas morning. Outside of Lalibela it is not such a big attraction, although Christians do flock to their church on Christmas Eve, and there is a big breaking of the pre-Christmas fast at Christian homes throughout the country.
Meaning of Epiphany and link with Timkat
Epiphany (Greek: “appearance” or “manifestation”) is a Christian feast intended to celebrate the “shining forth” or revelation of God to mankind in human form, in the person of Jesus. The feast is also called Twelfth Day, as it is the twelfth day after Christmas.
The observance had its origins in the Eastern Christian churches, and was originally a general celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and included the commemoration of: his birth; the visit of the Magi, or “Wise Men”, who arrived in Bethlehem; all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to and including his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist; and even the miracle at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee. However, it seems fairly clear that the Baptism was the event predominantly commemorated.
Epiphany is celebrated by both the Eastern and Western Churches, but a major difference between them is over precisely which historical events the feast commemorates. For Western Christians the feast primarily commemorates the coming of the Magi, while in the East the feast celebrates the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan. However, in both cases the essence of the feast is the same: the manifestation of Christ to the world (whether as an infant or in the Jordan), and the Mystery of the Incarnation.
From: Wikipedia on Epiphany