Today is Meskel, one of the most important holidays on the Ethiopian calendar. There are public and church festivals throughout the country today. The elementary students prepared all through September for yesterday’s celebration at the school .
Meskel is a religious holiday that celebrates the finding of the true cross (the word meskel means cross). According to tradition, in the 4th century the Empress Helena (later St. Helena), mother of Constantine the Great, went on a quest to find the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. She had a dream in in which she was told to build a big bonfire. She had a huge pile of wood assembled and lit, and Helena threw frankincense into the flames. As she prayed, the smoke drifted up and then down to the ground, directing her to the place where the cross was buried. A piece of the cross is believed to be kept in the remote Gishen Mariam Monastery, in the Welo region of Ethiopia.
The third graders at ICS put on a musical drama of the history of Meskel. Then everyone – students, teachers, and parents – went to the soccer field for coffee ceremony, traditional snacks (nuts and grains, popcorn, and a special spicy bread) and a dancing and singing presentation by St. George’s church choir. This was followed by the main event: a big bonfire called a demera. The smoky fire symbolizes the smoke that Helena followed to find the cross.
We get a four-day weekend for the holiday. We’re headed out of town to a place in the mountains called Woliso. I might not be able to post until we get back – not sure there’s internet coverage out there – but I plan to take lots of pictures. I’ll post them – and add Meskel pictures to this post – on Sunday when I can use the faster internet connection at school.