As a member of an active immigrant Ethiopian community in Los Angeles, I have had the opportunity to experience the pleasures of our culture, traditions, and, with much fervor, our holidays on the grandest of scales. As an Orthodox Christian, I can, for example, attest to the elaborate, deeply spiritual, and somewhat comparable-to-Ethiopia experience that is the Timket holiday in Los Angeles. This annual celebration of Epiphany is arguably one of the largest – in both the number of partakers and the scope of festivities – in the Diaspora. In my imagination, nothing can compare to celebrating holidays in the land that originated the ornate practices we replicate in the Diaspora. This is one of the reasons why I was so excited to celebrate Meskel, the holiday whose devotees commemorate the finding of the Christian True Cross, for the first time ever in Ethiopia.
“During the celebrations, my Americanness, any accent I may periodically liberate from the constraints of my tongue, or naivety to the festivities in the Ethiopian context did not matter.”
The Demera (bonfire) ceremony on Meskel Eve is done to represent the belief that Queen Helena (Nigist Eleni in Amharic), received a vision in a dream that directed her to start a bonfire and use its smoke to guide her to where the Cross was buried. Meskel celebrations (here, I will only describe Meskel Eve), were as majestic and goosebumps-inducing as I anticipated. It was the same for me as for most of everyone else celebrating: a half-day at work, the stress of deciding how to get to the bustling Meskel Adebabaye (Meskel Square), as many roads leading to it were closed off to vehicles, figuring out where to physically spend the hours before the burning of the Demera began (“is this the best possible view?”), taking enough pictures and videos to render my phone storage-less, and itching to get lost in the crowd of bodies and mezmur (church songs). The Meskel Square celebrations were not enough. Only after following a procession from the Square on a closed road to Kidus Urael Church in Kazanchis, taking in a local Demera on said church’s grounds, singing along to multiple mezmuroch at once, and ending the evening in mass prayer—where our voices of pleading and gratitude rang out to our God in perfect unison—did I feel completely fulfilled.
I feel so lucky the EDF experience includes partaking in events I never imagined I would see in person, and experienced in such a way that felt authentic and unifying. During the celebrations, my Americanness, any accent I may periodically liberate from the constraints of my tongue, or naivety to the festivities in the Ethiopian context did not matter. I was just another devotee—eyes bright, hands at attention to clap, and tongue prepared to elilta (albeit not perfectly). The oneness I felt with my fellow Ethiopians in Ethiopia was an unexpected treat to the very personal and new experience of celebrating Meskel in Addis Ababa. I am counting my blessings to have felt this so early on in my EDF experience and looking forward to finding encounters that will bring on the same feelings once (twice, thrice) again.
“The oneness I felt with my fellow Ethiopians in Ethiopia was an unexpected treat to the very personal and new experience of celebrating Meskel in Addis Ababa.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship the organization and the leadership.