Meskel Festival – Ethiopian True Cross Celebration

Meskel Festival

Ethiopian Meskel festival is one of the prevalent celebrations in Ethiopia. The rest of the world calls it the true cross celebration. It takes place on the 27th of September and sometimes the twenty-eighth of the leap year annually, meaning meskerem seventeenth in the Ethiopian calendar. This is also anticipated to continue for the next coming years. It is celebrated by people who follow the religion orthodox, Christianity.

meskel Festival

Meskel Festival Origin and History

Suppose you ask how this celebration initially began. In that case, it will take us back to the biblical time in the 4th century when the Roman empress Eleni, who always mentioned along with the meskel festival, discovered the true Cross that Jesus Christ carried. At the same time, he was being tortured and crucified.

It is mainly told that Queen Eleni had a dream of the revelation where she was shown what to do to answer the question she was trying to solve, finding where the true Cross was buried or hidden. She had a vision in a dream. What she saw was an instruction to build a bonfire, and the smoke would direct her to the location of the True Cross. So Empress Eleni had to command the people of Jerusalem to accept her request and put what she dreamt about into practice. As a result, she gave directions to the people of Jerusalem to do the same by bringing wood and building a massive heap. This is why Christians in Ethiopia celebrate the foundation of the true Cross.

How is Meskel Celebrated in Ethiopia?

Demera Bonfire During Meskel Festival

Meskel, as the most significant festival in Ethiopia, has a very well-organized and well-rounded event that takes place in the Meskel square based in the capital city Addis Ababa. The burning of a great bonfire, or Demera, is a massive part of the Meskel celebration based on Queen Eleni’s dream. Demera bonfire was ignited after frankincense was added, and the smoke soared high into the sky before returning to the ground, exactly where the Cross had been hidden buried.

Meskel bonfire - Demera

That’s precisely how Ethiopians celebrate Mesqel Festival.

What makes it all different is that all Christians in Ethiopia don’t just finish the whole celebration there in Meskel square. They will once again make these other smaller in size bonfires close to their homes in their neighborhood, so whoever couldn’t make it to the main celebration will get to feast here at home with the neighbors. And the ones that had already been to the mesqel square will still stay in the neighborhood and celebrate once more.

When doing these things like burning the bonfire, there’s this saying that the believers mostly agree to; that is how they take it as a good sign of hope for growth and positive things. If the burnt bonfire falls towards the east, the opposite goes to the left.

Other Cultural Merits

There is all the spiritual singing, the traditional dressing for both men and women; it has an aesthetic celebration that is eye-catching overall. You will see many riders on different colors of horses walking around the meskel square, making it even more graceful and exciting to watch. Although this might seem like a celebration only Ethiopians participate in, it is the other way around.

Thousands of foreigners worldwide put a lot of effort into traveling and attending this colorful and beautiful event. Watching diversity with the same traditional clothes is very attractive and heartwarming to be part of this culture.

Even if Meskel is celebrated everywhere in Ethiopia, a region or ethnicity is well known for it other than Addis Ababa, Gurage. In Gurage, Mesqel isn’t just about religion but also a tradition where everyone there gathers around. Every child went away to other cities or countries for multiple reasons back home. And you are supposed to forgive whoever did them wrong or held a grudge, and make food which the Gurages are mostly known for. Besides the actual cross festival, a meal called “Kitfo.”

It is quite amusing is that after all the celebration, when the bonfire has burnt completely and changed into ash, some adults and kids touch the ash and draw a cross on their foreheads. It symbolizes blessing.

What Makes the Meskel Festival Special?

The Meskel festival is a one in a million since it showcases Ethiopia’s rich Christian heritage, Ethiopian orthodox churches’ beauty, and vibrant worship style. There is a show of church leaders dressed in elegant robes and holding large crosses to commemorate the occasion.

The Meskel festival is a source of pride for the Christian community. It is a place for showcasing Ethiopia’s rich culture spiritually and traditionally to international visitors and the rest of the globe. Christian tourists are allowed to experience the towns of Ethiopia, which have biblical parallels in the Old Testament, in addition to celebrating and confirming their faith in Christianity.


Yes, Meskel or True cross festival, as the foreigners call it, is a unique and worth appreciating heritage to Ethiopian people and the entire world. Especially to those who recognize and pay attention to every step’s details and meanings in the Ethiopian Meskal festival.

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Written by Typical Ethiopian Team

Typical Ethiopian Team is a team of professional authors who regularly publish 12 - 30 blog posts every month. They are doing a really good job of creating unique and reliable content about Ethiopia. If you want to contribute, contact us at [email protected].

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