Meskel (Finding of the True Cross) is one of the major Ethiopian Orthodox festivals and it is celebrated for two days.
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 goes to the spot of the “Demera” and uses 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.
Mesmerizing Addis Ababa and Meskel Eve Celebrations (18 km journey)
Kickstart your Ethiopian adventure with a day of exploration in Addis Ababa. If you arrive in the morning, seize the opportunity for brief visits to the city’s main attractions: the National Museum, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Mercato Market, and the scenic Entoto Mountains.
As the day unfolds, immerse yourself in the vibrant festivities of Meskel Eve. The Meskel celebrations have two captivating parts. The first, Demera, takes place on September 26. Bonfires adorned with Meskel daisies and a cross create a mesmerizing spectacle. In the evening, under the orchestration of the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a ceremonial lighting ceremony unfolds. The blessed bonfires come to life, surrounded by dancing and singing, with priests in ceremonial attire offering sacred hymns.
Witnessing the Demera’s ignition imparts an inner sense of brightness to all in attendance. Small Demeras are also kindled in individual homes and villages. As the burning wood splinters, the direction they fall is interpreted for insights into the upcoming harvest, peace prospects, and more. The finale involves a hopeful rain shower to extinguish the fire, symbolizing prosperity if successful.
Meskel Revelry Continues (20 km journey)
The following day marks the apex of Meskel celebrations, an authentic feast of joy. Believers gather at the Demera site, using ashes from the previous night’s fire to mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross.
Amidst the mass blossoming of golden yellow Meskel daisies, join in the exuberant celebrations as locals come together to share abundant food and drink. The day concludes with a drop-off at Bole International Airport or your chosen hotel.
For this tour and others, we offer a 1–2 day stopover in Addis Ababa, allowing you to recover from long-haul flights before embarking on your selected adventure. Refer to our optional Addis Ababa tour for details, tailoring your stopover to explore specific places of interest.
This tour seamlessly integrates with other travel plans, but the fixed dates of the Meskel Festival require your presence in Ethiopia during late September to partake in this unique celebration while also enjoying the country’s diverse offerings.