Meskel is a Christian holiday that’s observed in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. It’s a day that commemorates the discovery of the True Cross by Roman Empress Saint Helena in the fourth century.

Observations on this day usually include the burning of a huge bonfire and a procession. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the discovery of the True Cross in the fourth century likely happened in March but was moved to September to avoid it interfering with Lent.

The History Of Meskel

According to tradition, St. Helena started a search for the cross in 326 A.D. She did so after receiving directions from a dream that told her to light a bonfire and then follow the flow of the smoke to uncover where Jesus’ cross was buried. It’s believed that her quest was a success.

Orthodox Christians also believe that half of the holy cross was given to the Ethiopian emperor Dawit by the Patriarch of Alexandra. This gift was supposedly given as a reward for protecting Coptic Church members. Supposedly, the piece of the cross is kept in the Amba Geshen Mountains.

Historians believe that the Feast Of Meskel is a tradition that goes back more than 600 years and has existed in other forms since about the 13th century.

Customs & Traditions For Meskel

Meskel is a word that means “cross” in Amharic and this holiday is observed on September 27th or 28th every year. The main national feast for this holiday is held at Meskel Square in the capital of Addis Ababa. This is one of the primary religious celebrations of the Orthodox Church which is located in the Horn of Africa.

On the day of the celebration, bonfires called Damera are burned. These bonfires are usually attended by Orthodox church leaders, diplomats, and government officials, as well as ordinary citizens. Many Ethiopians believe that the bonfire absolves them of their sins.

Some people also believe that the way the bonfire collapses or how the smoke travels can be a way to predict the future. The bonfire in the capital city of Addis Ababa is decorated with the Meskel flower before it’s set on fire. Meskel flowers are yellow daisies that just so happen to bloom at the same time as the celebration.

As the bonfire burns, the crown circles around it all while singing songs. The whole event is then followed by festivities and prayers. During this celebration feast, a flatbread that’s considered the national dish of Ethiopia is eaten.

This flatbread is known as injera. According to tradition, the man of the house would break the injera, and the rest of the family would join in eating it. All of this makes this a holiday of great merriment and hope.

Where is it celebrated?
Eritrea (Public holiday)Ethiopia (Public holiday)
When is it?
This year (2023)
September 27 Wednesday
Next year (2024)
September 27 Friday
Last year (2022)
September 27 Tuesday