Festivals in Ethiopia are typically a very colorful and exciting affair. Larger cities attract local participants and travelers alike to come and gather to watch processions and take part in the music and dancing. Hotels and guide services often are booked up far in advance for these times of year, so you are best advised to plan your Ethiopia tour well in advance. See below a brief guide to some of the most popular festivals celebrated in Ethiopia.
Timket - Epiphany, celebrated on January 19 in the Gregorian calendar.
Otherwise known as the Feast of Epiphany for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Timket is celebrated on January 19th just two weeks after the celebration of Christmas. The origin of this feast dates back over 1000 years and is now one of the country's largest festivals and commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The festival typically last for 3 days long and begins on the eve of Timket with a reenactment of the baptism. This night the Priests bring out the Tabots which are two replicas of Moses' tablets purportedly housed in the Arc of the Covenant and are rarely seen by the people. In the very early morning (around 2 AM), the priests bless the water of the pool or river where the celebration will take place the next day. Visitors can witness this ceremony which is lost on most of the world and given extreme reverence. The festival is best observed in Gondar, where the crowds gather at Fasilides' Bath inside of Fasil Ghebi. Many dances and songs are performed by those attending, and most locals are dressed up in their finest clothes.
Ledet - Christmas, celebrated on January 7 in the Gregorian calendar.
Celebrated after 43 days of fasting and includes a spectacular procession in the early morning hours. It typically finishes with mass and then people return to their homes for a feast and drinks together. One of the best cities to observe this festival is in Lalibela.
Meskel - The Finding of the Cross, celebrated for two days beginning September 27th in the Gregorian calendar, or September 28th in leap years.
This holiday is celebrated with colorful dancing, feasting, and lighting a large bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as "Demera". The Demera procession and bonfire starts the evening before Meskel, on September 26th. This holiday commemorates a day from the 4th century when the mother of Constantine, Empress Helena, claims to have discovered the true cross on which Jesus of Nazareth died. According to legend, the Empress sent pieces of the cross to various churches, including one to the Ethiopian church, which is now buried in the side of the mountain Amba Geshen, near the ancient and sacred Gishen Mariam monastery.
Enkutatash - Ethiopian New Year, celebrated on September 11 in the Gregorian calendar.
This holiday celebrates both the start of the new year, and commemorates St. John the Baptist. This is a religious holiday and also a time when boys and girls sing and dance in the streets and people exchange greetings with one another.
Fasika - Easter, the day for its celebration varies
Ethiopians typically fast 55 days during the season of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday. They eat only in the evening and exclude meats and dairy from their diets for entire 55 days. On Easter eve, they attend mass until late evening, and then continue home for a feast with family in the early morning hours. This is typically a time spent with family for feasting and exchanging gifts.