Religion plays an important part of life in Ethiopia. The Orthodox Tewahedo Church ceremonies are unique and impressive; especially Timket and Meskel festivals which provide colorful ceremonies and celebrations. People dress in traditional costume and celebrate religious festivals across the country with colorful and unique ceremonies such as Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), Ledet (Christmas), Timket (Epiphany) and Fasika (Easter). Islamic religion followers also celebrate religious festivals in the Ethiopian calendar, notably, Muharram, Milad-an-Nabi and Eid-ul-Fitr.

Christian Festivals

Enkutatash (New Year)

Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) falls on September 1 Ethiopian calendar (September 11 Gregorian calendar) at the end of the Ethiopian rainy season and is called Enkutatash. September 1 is also celebrated to mark the commemoration of Saint John the Baptist. Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) is celebrated by every Ethiopian. It is also a day for young boys and girls to sing and dance and for exchanging New Year greetings among urban and rural inhabitants.

Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)

Meskel is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as “Damera”. Meskel commemorates the finding of the True Cross in the fourth century when Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the True Cross on which Christ was crucified. The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on September 17 Ethiopian calendar (September 27 Gregorian calendar), 6 months after the discovery of the True Cross. The celebration of Meskel signifies the presence of the True Cross at mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery and also symbolizes the events carried out by Empress Helena.

According to tradition, Empress Helena lit incense and prayed for assistance to guide her. The smoke drifted towards the direction of the buried cross. She dug and found three crosses; one of them was the True Cross used to crucify Jesus Christ. Empress Helena then gave a piece of the True Cross to all churches, including the Ethiopian Church. This piece was then brought to Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian legend, when people get close to the piece of the True Cross it made them naked by its powerful light. Because of this, a decision was made to bury it at the mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery in Wollo region. The monastery of Gishen Mariam holds a volume of a book which records the story of the True Cross of Christ and how it was acquired.

Debre Damo (Feast of Saint Aregawi)

Orthodox Tewahedo Christians celebrate the feast of Saint (Abune) Aregawi, on October 14 Ethiopian calendar (October 24 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Debra Damo, about 25 kilometers from Adigrat, from all over the country.

Kulubi (Feast of Saint Gabriel)

The feast of Saint Gabriel (kulubi Gebriel), the Archangel, is celebrated on December 19 Ethiopian calendar (December 28 Gregorian calendar) which culminates in a pilgrimage to Kulubi, about 68 kilometres from Dire Dawa. Orthodox Tewahedo Christians mark the celebration with colourful processions and ceremonies. Pilgrims walk up the hill to the church to fulfil a vow and give gifts to the church. Some pilgrims carry heavy rocks on their back up the hill to the church.

Ledet (Christmas)

Ledet (Christmas) falls on December 29 Ethiopian calendar (January 7 Gregorian calendar). Ledet (Christmas) is celebrated after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 AM and lasts until 9 AM. After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb or beef accompanied with injera and the traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej).

Timket (Epiphany)

Timket (Epiphany) is one among the greatest festivals in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church calendar. It commemorates Christ’s Baptism by Saint John in the Jordan River. Timket is celebrated in Ethiopia on January 11 Ethiopian calendar (January 19 Gregorian calendar), two weeks after Ledet (Ethiopian Christmas), beginning on the Eve of Timket with colourful processions and ceremonies ending on the January 12 (January 20 Gregorian calendar). In Timket, Tella and Tej are brewed, special bread is baked called “Himbash” (in Tigrigna) “Ambasha” (in Amharic), and sheep are slaughtered to mark the three-day celebration.

Fasika (Easter)

Fasika (Easter) is celebrated after 55 days severe Lent fasting (Hudade or Abye Tsome). Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and diary products for the whole 55 days. Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit and varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by injera and/or bread are only eaten on these days. The fist meal of the day is taken after 3 PM (9 o’clock in the afternoon Ethiopian time) during the fasting days, except Saturdays and Sundays, where a meal is allowed after the morning service.

On Easter eve people go to church and celebrate with candles which are lit during a colorful Easter mass service which begins at about 6 PM (12 o’clock in the evening Ethiopian time) and ends at about 2 AM (8 o’clock after mid-night Ethiopian time). Everyone goes home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb, slaughtered the previous night after 6 PM, accompanied with injera and traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Like Christmas, Easter is also a day of family re-union, an expression of good wishes with exchange of gifts (i.e. lamb, goat or loaf of bread).

Islamic Festivals


Ethiopia has long enjoyed the most intimate relations with Islam. When the early followers of Prophet Mohammed were denied the right to pursue their religion by the Quraysh tribe, the mercantile rulers of Mecca, the prophet had to seek a safe hideout for his followers in order to maintain the survival of his religion.

The then ruler of Ethiopia, Nejashi, granted asylum to the first refugees, eleven men and four wives, who entered his territory in 615 B.C. The second Hijira (flight) consisted of 101 Muslims. The Quraysh are said to have asked the Ethiopian ruler to hand over the exiles to them, but this was strongly rejected. Among the refugees were the prophet’s daughter Ruquyya, his future wives Umma Habiba and Umma Salama and his cousin and leader of the religious exiles, Ja’afar Ibn Abu Talib. Many of the Muslims stayed in the end were buried at the sacred village of Negash, north of Wukro about 60 Kms from Mekelle, the capital of Tigray Regional State. The Negashi of the Habersham, as the king is known in the Arab World, died in 630 B.c and was also buried there.

Negash remains Ethiopia’s earliest and most holy Muslim centre, where there is a fine mosque, constructed recently. Many flock to Negash for pilgrimage once in a year during the 10th day of the month of Moharem. Muslims from different parts of Ethiopia and abroad attend this two day colorful festival.


Islamic festivals have a special meaning for Muslims of Ethiopia because of he historical like. Ramadan is one of the holiest periods in the Islamic calendar. Life changes dramatically during Ramadan. After breaking their fast at sun-down, people stay awake until early hours, feasting, visiting friends and praying. At dawn they eat the meal that will last them until sunset. At the end of Ramadan, the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated.


The most important holy festival for the Muslims is Eid-Ul-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice- this occurs at the end of hajj on the tenth day of Zul hijja, the 12th month of the Islamic year. Sheep, goats or camels are sacrificed on this great occasion. The joyful crowds throng the mosque for prayers- the world is alive with happiness.

Traditional Festivals

Fiche Chambalala

The Sidama have their own unique calendar in which a week has five days and a month twenty-eight days. Each of the twenty-eight days has its own name and a year is thirteen months long.

However, their New Year does not fall on the same day every year. The day is determined by elders who practice astrology and announce it to the communities. Two weeks before Fiche, elders hold a fasting after which they pronounce blessings upon their people, cattle and villages. Then the celebration starts with singing and dancing.

But before the celebration actually starts, if there are people who have quarreled, they bring their cases before the elders and forgive one another. The eve, therefore, is essentially a day of reconciliation amongst those who have been estranged.

Having made peace among themselves, they walk in a procession and pass through an arch made of fresh bamboo. Even the cattle participate in the ritual. For the Sidama, walking through the arch, which they call “huluqa” symbolizes passing from the old to the New Year.

Fiche is communally celebrated at a gudumale, a kind of clearing which the Sidama use as a public square in every village in the countryside or it can be done at marketplaces. Such places are never farmed and the Sidama do not cut the trees which grow there.

The unique traditional dressing style of those from the country side, as they danced in groups along the main roads, is a breath-taking spectacle. Old men wielding spears and shields performed war dances while riders brought their country-traversing horses to the town and did a show of fine horsemanship.

In Hawassa, it took place on a grassy field on the shore of Lake Hawassa where hundreds of the Sidama are gathered and entertained by a local band playing traditional music and dances. The dancing varies depending on the age group of the participants. The dance of the old men is called ketala. They don their traditional clothes of home-spun shirts and jodhpurs and dance standing side by side and holding each other’s shoulders or shaking their spears and shields. The children and the youth also have their peculiar dancing styles. Unmarried girls wear silver bracelets over their bare arms when they are dancing.

The dancing and the celebration goes on at different gudumales for two weeks. Boys and girls express interest in each other during the celebration of Fiche. Just as in some parts of the Amhara Regional State, it is common for young men and women to throw lemons at each other; the Sidama youth would send a toothbrush made of twigs to one another. When a girl accepts a young man’s interest, she sends him back the toothbrush in the hands of the same messenger who brought it to her and the young man understands.

In the evening they eat buurusame, which is quocho flour mixed with plenty of butter. And they drink milk over that. They use false banana leaves for scooping the buurusame. The leaves are warmed over fire to make them flexible and in the process they become free from bacteria.

On Fiche the buurusame is served in a bowl called shafeta which is larger than the one they commonly use for other occasions. Dozens of people scoop the buurusame with the false banana leaf from one large bowl and take it dripping with hot butter to their mouth. When they are done they depart wishing one another a good, prosperous year and hoping to celebrate Fiche again the following year.

On Fiche, the Sidama do not eat meat because, they believe, they must honor their cattle on that day. If there is some meat in anybody’s house they put it outside.

The day after Fiche is called “Chambalala” on which fathers take the cattle to pastures and relieve their children who go around in their villages bringing New Year greetings, saying “Aide Chambalala” (roughly: Happy New year) and good wishes to every family. The mothers wait for them, receive them into their houses saying, “Ille, ille” and feed them buurusame. Then they anoint the children’s head with a generous measure of butter.

The Irreechaa Festival

According to the Oromoo Dhahaa-Oromo Calendar, Irreechaa is the annual Thanksgiving day or Irreechaa Birraa of the year. An Irreechaa Birraa is a celebration that repeats once in a year-in birraa (the sunny new season) and involves special activities or amusements. The Oromos celebrate Irreechaa at the sacred grounds of Hora Harsadi (Lake Harsadi), Bishoftu, to thank Waaqaa (God) for the blessings and mercies they have received throughout the past year.

The Irreechaa festival is celebrated every year at the beginning of Birraa (the sunny new season after the dark, rainy winter season) throughout Oromia

Source: Ministry of Culture and Tourism