Meskel in Ethiopia

Ethiopia Public Holiday observed in Ethiopia

Meskel. Known in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia as Enkutatash, this holiday marks 1 Meskerem, the first day in the Ethiopian calendar.

When is Meskel?

How long until Meskel?
This holiday next takes place in 124 Days.
Dates of Meskel
Year Weekday Date
2020 Monday September 28th
2019 Friday September 27th
2018 Thursday September 27th
2017 Wednesday September 27th
2016 Tuesday September 27th
1 Day
Commemorates the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena in the fourth century
Related holiday
Armenia Armenia: Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Meskel is a public holiday in Ethiopia is celebrated on 27 September unless it is a leap year, in which case it is celebrated on 28 September.

Also known as 'The Finding of the True Cross', Meskel commemorates the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helena in the fourth century.

History of Meskel

In the centuries after the events described in the New Testament, Christianity was gaining a foothold in Europe, growing from an obscure cult in 300 AD to becoming the state religion of the Roman Empire by 380 AD.

The rise of Christianity during this period was largely due to the Roman Emperor Constantine, who declared himself a Christian while decriminalizing Christianity in 313 AD. Following his conversion, his mother, the Empress Helena (later St. Helena) travelled to the Holy Lands to establish churches and spread the gospel in 326 AD.

While in Jerusalem, Helena had a dream in which she was told to light a bonfire and the smoke would indicate where the true cross was hidden. On waking, the bonfire was built and lit, and the smoke revealed the location of the three crosses that had been used for the crucifixions of Jesus and two others on Good Friday.

This tradition of the discovery of the true cross is celebrated by the Orthodox church, but is popular in the Ethiopian Orthodox church as it is believed that a part of the true cross was brought to Ethiopia in the 15th century and is kept at Amba Geshen, a mountain fortress built in the shape of a cross.

Today, Orthodox Ethiopians mark Meskel by lighting bonfires in honour of Helena and the ashes are then marked on foreheads in the shape of a cross, similar to Ash Wednesday. Indeed, it is said that the discovery of the true cross took place in Spring, but that the festival was moved to avoid falling during Lent.

In 2013, Meskel was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UN Agency for Education, Science and Culture.

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