Finding of the True Cross
Wednesday night marked the beginning of Meskel, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of the Finding of the True Cross. At around 5 o’clock I heard drums pounding and joyful singing, so I ran outside to join the celebration. I saw a few friends, dressed in traditional church attire, and joined in with them, clapping to the beat with a huge smile on my face. About 2,000 of us, stopped at the football stadium, where a stage was set up to begin the festivities. The priest began to sing and the crowd sang along. A cute girl taught me how to dance along with the words.
A friend who organized the celebration spotted me in the crowd and dragged me to the front of the ceremony. He had me stand amongst the priest as a guest of honor. I felt truly underdressed in my UCR hoodie, jeans, and hiking boots standing next to them in their beautiful robes. I just had to thank God I did my hair earlier that day. He then tells me to stand by this guy with a mike for something…wait what did he say?? All I caught was the word English. OOO NO he’s going to make me do a speech! I try and think of something to say “Uhhh Welcome…No! say it Amharic..T’ena Stillin! That’s better. This is a wonderful celebration. Batem Konjo now! I am new here and am enjoying participating in this holiday. Immasayganaolow!..Yea that’ll do! O.. wait…he doesn’t want me to do a speech. He just wanted me to stand next to a translator so I could understand what was going on. Phew!
After the dancing, the children from the Sunday School dressed in their robes, began a skit to reinact what the holiday means. Legend says that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was discovered in the year 326 by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. Unable to find the holy artifact, she set up long poles and set them on fire. Skyward raised the smoke and down it bent, touching the spot on the earth where the original cross was found buried. Queen Helen lit up torches heralding her success to the neighboring areas. In the middle Ages, the Patriarch of Alexandria gave the Ethiopian Emperor Dawit half of the True Cross in return for the protection offered to the Coptic Christians.
The eve of Meskel is called Demera. A huge bonfire is built, topped with a cross to which flowers are tied. The patriarch of the Orthodox Church leads the lightening ceremony. After the bonfire is blessed dancing and singing begins around it and an inner feeling of brightness spreads through all those around it. Little Demeras are built at individual houses and villages.
The direction in which the bundle of wood collapses gives room for interpretations about the harvest, if there is going to be peace and so on. At the end of the Demera a rain shower is expected to fall to help put the fire off. If the rain falls and the fire is extinguished by it there is a belief that the year will be prosperous. If the flowers do not burn (the top of the fire) it is considered to be bad luck according to my host brother.
The day after Demera is Meskel. The festival is colorfully celebrated and there is plenty of food. Believers make crosses on their head with the ashes of the bonfire as a sign of devotion to the cross. The festival coincidences with the mass blooming of yellow Meskel daisies, which are a symbol of a new beginning after the rainy season.
Pictures are coming in a week. Unfortunately, they arent letting me load them right now