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!