Timkat in Mekelle – Sunday, January 19, 2014

Crowd on the field of Timkat in Mekelle

Crowd on the field of Timkat in Mekelle

Ethiopian Orthodox priests at Timkat, Mekelle.

Ethiopian Orthodox priests at Timkat, Mekelle.

Drummers at work, Timkat, Mekelle.

Drummers at work, Timkat, Mekelle.

Mekelle girl in her Timkat finery.

Mekelle girl in her Timkat finery.

Even the animals are dressed in their best!

Even the animals are dressed in their best!

Ceremonial umbrellas to keep off the hot Ethiopian sun.

Ceremonial umbrellas to keep off the hot Ethiopian sun.

Every Baptist understands what this is about!  The umbrella is inverted and is passed through the crowd as a "collection plate" for offerings!

Every Baptist understands what this is about! The umbrella is inverted and is passed through the crowd as a “collection plate” for offerings!

Timkat girls in their religious finery.

Timkat girls in their religious finery.

A Timkat procession rolls through the center of Mekelle.  If you look closely, you can see the red carpet being rolled out in front of the dignitaries, while the carpet is rolled up behind them, then carried up to the front!

A Timkat procession rolls through the center of Mekelle. If you look closely, you can see the red carpet being rolled out in front of the dignitaries, while the carpet is rolled up behind them, then carried up to the front!

Bicycle racers in downtown Mekelle as part of the Timkat celebrations.

Bicycle racers in downtown Mekelle as part of the Timkat celebrations.

Dr. Samson Mulugeta and his family in their Timkat finery.

Dr. Samson Mulugeta and his family in their Timkat finery.

One of many feasts on the day of Timkat.  Magnificent!

One of many feasts on the day of Timkat. Magnificent!

Drum of Timkat

Timkat (sometimes spelled Timket or Timqat) is a major holiday in Ethiopia.  It is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s celebration of Epiphany.  “Epiphany” means “manifestation” and for Christians this “manifestation” is the manifestation of God in the person of Jesus.  In Western Christianity, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6 and commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to Jesus, and his parents Mary and Joseph.  This is interpreted as the “manifestation” of Jesus to the gentiles.  In Eastern Christianity, of which the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is part, the Epiphany does not involve the visit of the Three Wise Men, but rather centers on the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, at which time (according to the Gospel of John) a voice was heard proclaiming “This is my beloved Son.”

Enough theology! Timkat means “baptism” in Amharic, and, as noted above, it relates to the baptismal epiphany of jesus.  Timkat is usually celebrated on January 19, but moves to January 20 on Leap Year.  (I shall not try to explain—as I do not understand—the differences between the Ethiopian calendar and our own).  The Timkat festivals are held in many different places throughout Ethiopia and all exhibit some form of ritual re-enactment of baptism.  Water is a central focus of the ceremonies, which can be challenging in parched parts of the country where there are no rivers.  Timkat in Mekelle takes place in an open field, with a large water tank or cistern which is filled for the ceremony. A model of the Ark of the Covenant (or of one of the stone tablets originally contained in the Ark) called the Tabot is a central feature of Ethiopian Orthodox churches.  A model of this kind is present on every Ethiopian Orthodox altar.  The Tabot represents the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah when he came down to the Jordan River to be baptized, and in the Timkat celebrations, the tabot is carried to the ceremonial location (a river, stream, or pool) where it is blessed, often with much sprinkling or splashing of the surrounding crowd in a re-enactment of their own baptisms. The ceremony over, the crowds disperse to family gatherings and feastings, much like an American Thanksgiving celebration, with everyone dressed in their finery.

Helen and I were taken to Timkat by Dr. Samson Mulugeta, head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mekelle University, after which we plowed our way through two magnificent lunches at different family venues, and eventually staggered home to a sound overnight sleep. As with all African festivals, Timkat provides a magnificent opportunity for the photographer.  Enjoy, as did we!

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