Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on Friday marked the two-day Meskel, the Finding of the True Cross, celebrations with various religious and cultural activities that marks the finding of the true cross, on which Christ was crucified on Good Friday.

In Ethiopia, Meskel is celebrated annually on September 27 or September 28 in a leap year commemorating the fourth-century discovery by Roman Empress Saint Helena (Queen Eleni) of the True Cross.

The eve of Meskel, September 27, is marked by the burning of a large bonfire, locally called ‘Demera’ in the Amharic language, at churches, villages as well as on household levels.

On Friday, tens of thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church faithful gathered at the Meskel Square in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to colorfully celebrate Meskel with the burning of huge bonfire and procession by priests, deacons, Sunday School students with spiritual chants and songs.

The colorful and elaborate celebration at the Meskel Square in the Ethiopian capital is annually attended by archbishops, senior Ethiopian government officials, diplomats as well as tens of thousands of adherents as well as tourists.

According to church account, the bonfire and procession commemorate that Queen Eleni was directed to the True Cross through a dream in which she was told to start a bonfire and follow the smoke to where the Cross was buried.

In the early hours of Saturday, as this year’s Meskel celebration falls on a leap year, Orthodox adherents will flock to the nearby churches and make signs of cross with ashes of the bonfire burnt on the eve.

In Ethiopia, Meskel and other holidays are celebrated traditionally with unique customs, whereby people prepare special traditional foods and drinks and visit each other with exchanging of seasonal greetings.

On September 12, the East African country marked its unique New Year, or Enkutatash in the Amharic language, which falls on September 11 (or September 12 during a leap year), as per the country’s unique calendar that counts its year seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar. This year, Ethiopians have welcomed in 2012.

Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year, marks the end of the three-month rainy season when bright autumn days return to the vastly highland nation. On the eve, each household or neighbors in group light wooden torches called “Chibo” to symbolize the coming of the new season of sunshine.

Steeped in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church traditions, Enkutatash celebrations usually begin with church activities. New Year church programs start shortly after midnight the eve and last into the next morning.

The New Year brings an extended family together to attend a series of events, including slaughtering of cattle, either a sheep, goat or cow, depending on a household’s financial condition. Often, a community or a village will pool money to slaughter a cow, while each household can choose to slaughter a less expensive sheep. Enditem

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