Epiphany (Timkat) in Lalibela

Timkat, derived from the Amharic term ጥምቀት, is the Orthodox Tewahedo celebration of Epiphany, commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

This festive occasion is observed on January 19th (or 20th in a leap year), corresponding to the 11th day of Terr in the Ethiopian calendar.

During the Timkat ceremonies, a significant element is the ritual reenactment of baptism, reminiscent of similar reenactments performed by Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land when they visit the Jordan River.

Central to the festivities is the Tabot, a model of the Ark of the Covenant present on every Ethiopian altar, analogous to the Western altar stone. The Tabot, rarely seen by the laity, symbolizes the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah during his baptism in the Jordan. In the early morning, around 2 a.m., the Divine Liturgy is conducted near a stream or pool.

The Tabot, adorned in rich cloth, is reverently carried in procession on the head of the priest. The nearby body of water is blessed towards dawn, and its sanctified water is sprinkled on participants, some of whom immerse themselves in the water, symbolically renewing their baptismal vows.

The festivities continue well into the day. By noon on Timkat Day, a sizable crowd gathers at the ritual site. The Holy Ark is then escorted back to its church in a vibrant procession marked by colorful festivities.

The clergy, adorned in robes and carrying umbrellas of various hues, engage in spirited dances and songs. Elders march solemnly with their weapons, accompanied by middle-aged men singing a long-drawn, low-pitched haaa hooo. Children joyfully run about with sticks and games.

Dressed in their finest attire, women eagerly chatter on their one true day of freedom in the year. Young men energetically leap in spirited dances, rhythmically repeating songs.


UNESCO recognized this cultural celebration by inscribing Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2019.

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