Fire, smoke and colour as Ethiopians mark Meskel

·1 min read
Girl holding a candle
Girl holding a candle

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, celebrating the Meskel festival, came together in the capital, Addis Ababa, after most of the faithful skipped last year's festivities due to the pandemic.

It is the first big festival of the Ethiopian religious year and marks the finding of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, according to Orthodox Christian tradition.

The authorities did not enforce Covid-19 restrictions with many among the thousands of celebrants without masks.

The highlight on Sunday, which was the eve of the festival, called Demera, is the lighting of a bonfire in the centre of the Meskel Square - a huge public plaza at the heart of the capital.

Bonfire next to crowd
Bonfire next to crowd
Bonfire next to statue
Bonfire next to statue

It signifies the efforts made by St Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, to find the cross while in Jerusalem in the 4th Century.

Person standing in front of bonfire
Person standing in front of bonfire

The Orthodox tradition says that while in Jerusalem, St Helena was advised to light a fire to show her where to look.

The smoke from the fire led her to the cross.

Smoke rising from a bonfire
Smoke rising from a bonfire

Demera is a colourful occasion which attracts worshippers from the numerous Orthodox churches in Addis Ababa.

People dressed in green
People dressed in green

The faithful wore different coloured outfits representing which church they had come from.

Women in a crows with red scarves
Women in a crows with red scarves
People dressed in yellow
People dressed in yellow
Man and woman in green and white
Man and woman in green and white
Crowd dressed in white with Ethiopian flags
Crowd dressed in white with Ethiopian flags

Instruments also play a huge role in proceedings, with a meaning behind each one.

The 10-stringed begena is often heard in church and helps in meditative prayer.

Girls playing string instrument
Girls playing string instrument
Man playing drum
Man playing drum

Some wore costumes, such as Roman outfits, directly related to 1st Century Judea, the time and place Jesus lived.

Man dressed in Roman outfit
Man dressed in Roman outfit

All photos by Amensisa Negera, Getty Images and AFP.

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