Meskel…we thoroughly enjoyed celebrating this holiday with friends! Beautiful little Meskel flowers were being picked by people all day Wed and Thurs. I had two huge bundles dropped off at my house on Thurs. We were also invited to three different fires in our neighborhood by different neighbors. About 8pm on Thurs night was when all the fun started. Fires were lit, music was played, people gathered. Kids danced around a fire chanting the name of the person who started it and clapping. It was quite charming. Around the corner from our house, the neighborhood had planned quite the Meskel party. There was music booming, a large fire that remained lit for quite a few hours and food for all. It was kind of like a BBQ, but with Ethiopian food. We were treated as neighbors and eagerly invited to join in on the celebration. We had plates of food, bottles of Coca and a great time! We stayed out WAY too late, but it truly was a wonderful night spent with our neighbors. Friday was truly Meskel, but this is also a fasting day for the Orthodox, so the meal takes place on Thursday night. Friday, shops were closed. In the evening, neighbors gathered again around smaller fires and danced and listened to music. We gave up and went to bed around 10pm and the music was still going strong long after that.
The Meskel holiday is all about the cross of Jesus. Years ago, a ruler here lit a fire (this is why they still light fires) and prayed. The ashes from the fire flew up into the sky and landed in a particular spot. When they dug there, they discovered a large piece of wood, believed to be part of the cross of Jesus. Now, they light these fires with a cross on top and the direction the cross falls (north, south, east, west) predicts what the next year will bring–health, wealth, war or famine (in no particular order because I do not have any idea which direction means which prediction). Some have compared it to our groundhog day, but clearly the holiday has MUCH more meaning to Ethiopians, especially the Orthodox. Only Mslm families do not celebrate the holiday, though. It has become more about the tradition than the meaning for many Ethiopians (non-Orthodox especially), from what I am told.
I will try to attach a few pics. One of the fire with the cross on top before it was lit. One of the fire burning, which my husband and kiddos got to help light, one of the Meskel flowers. Our favorite thing about the holiday was the reception of our neighbors to us. Clearly, we don’t fit, but they don’t care and welcomed us anyway. About a half dozen wanted to make sure we knew what the holiday was about, but that was the only way we were treated any differently than anyone else. It was a wonderful night!