Timkat Festival


Timkat Festival, Ethiopia

Timkat: the feast of Epiphany, is the greatest festival of the year falling on the 19 January just two weeks after the Ethiopian Christmas. It is a three-day affair beginning on the eve of Timkat with dramatic and colourful processions. Enormous effort is put into the occasion. Tej and tella (Ethiopian mead and beer) are brewed, special bread is baked, and the fat-tailed African sheep are fattened for slaughter. Gifts are prepared for the children and new clothes purchased or old mended and laundered. Everyone, men, women, and children appears resplendent for the three-day celebration. Dressed in the dazzling white of the traditional dress, the locals provide a dramatic contrast to the jewel colours of the ceremonial velvets and satins of the priests' robes and sequinned velvet umbrellas.

Timkat Festival, Ethiopia

On the eve of Timkat, priests take the Tabot (which symbolises the Ark of the Covenant, containing the Ten Commandments) from each church to a tent at a consecrated pool or stream. There is frenetic activity, including the ringing of bells, blowing of trumpets and the burning of incense. In Addis Abbaba many tents are pitched at Jan Meda (the horse racing course of imperial day) to the northeast of the city centre. Many churches bring their tabots to Jan Meda accompanied by priests bearing prayer sticks and sistra, the ringing of bells and blowing of trumpets, and swinging bronze censors from which wisps of incense smoke escape into the evening air. The tabots rest in their special tent in the meadow, each hoisting a proud banner depicting the church's saint in front.

Tonight is the ‘big night’ and you enjoy a traditional celebration feast and Amharic dancing. A traditional feast is based on the national dish for most Ethiopians: injera, a flat, sour dough pancake made from a special grain called teff. Accompanying injera, which is eaten in the same manner as Indian chapati, is often a wat, a spicey stew made with meat or fish. A traditional Ethiopian meal involves a gathering of people who eat together from one large circular plate. You eat with your right hand and should wash hands before eating – typically a jug of water and bar of soap are presented to you for washing.

Timkat Festival, Ethiopia

The priests pray throughout the long cold night and mass is performed around 2:00 a.m. Huge crowds of people camp out, eating and drinking by the light of flickering fires and torches. Towards dawn the patriarch dips a golden cross and extinguishes a burning consecrated candle in the altar. Then he sprinkles water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ's baptism. Many of the more fervent leap fully dressed into the water to renew their vows.

priests pray - Timkat Festival, Ethiopia

The next morning is the great day itself, Christ's baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist is commemorated. Since October and the end of the rains, the country has been drying up steadily. The sun blazes down from a clear blue sky and the festival of Timkat always takes place in glorious weather. Following the symbolical baptism the tabots start back to their respective churches, while feasting, singing and dancing continue at Jan Meda. The procession winds through town again as the horsemen cavort alongside, their mounts handsomely decorated with red tassels, embroidered saddlecloths, and silver bridles. The elders march solemnly, accompanied by singing leaping priests and young men, while the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalls the ancient rites of the Old Testament.

Jan 16 Addis Ababa, City Tours, Traditional food, one overnight Sheraton
Jan 17-18 Fly to Lalibela, 2 overnights Tukul Village
Jan 19-20 Fly to Lake Tana, 2 overnights Kuriftu
Jan 21 Fly to Addis Ababa - connect out

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. City tours and traditional food.

Days 2: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Lalibela

Fly to Lalibela.

Days 3: Lalibela

Timkat Festival in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Day 4: Lalibela to Lake Tana

Fly to Lake Tana.

Day 5: Lake Tana

Day 6: Lake Tana to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Fly to Addis Ababa - connect out.

Day 1:

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Day 2-3:

Tukul Village,

Tukul Village, Lalibela

Day 4-5:

Lake Tana

Kuriftu Resort, Lake Tana