Celebrating Ethiopian Meskel

By Staff Reporter

Meskel-CelebrationSeptember 24, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- Are you craving for Kitfo, Gomen, Ayeb or Kocho, because we are only days away from Meskel? Of course, when you are talking about these mouthwatering indigenous meals, you cannot miss mentioning its masters – the Gurage communities in Ethiopia.

Just as eager as you are, the Ethiopian Gurages are also waiting for Meskel to prepare their famous dishes of Koch and Kitfo. The 2019 Meskel is just around the corner to be celebrated all over Ethiopia. And it is especially a big day for the Gurages.

The people of Gurage are well-known for their hard work and skills as traders. Many own shops in Addis Ababa and other cities. Just judging by their hard working habits, if you think the community has no time for any celebration, then you are wrong.

If you are around Merkato area in Addis Ababa and notice that things are very quiet these days, you should know that it is Meskel season. Because Ethiopian Gurages begin preparations long before the actual event.  That includes saving money, buying clothing and other gifts to their relatives and families back home.

Gurages from the diasporas who miss their hometowns also return home to meet and celebrate Mesekel with their beloved ones.

The Meskel celebrations in Gurage communities goes for up to two weeks as it is a major even to bring together family members and friends to share a good moment in their lives. Most trek to the region they all call home - the fertile, semi-mountainous region in southwest Ethiopia.

Adults who have return to the villages are expected to provide a bull or a goat for their parents to slaughter for Mesekel. The slaughter itself is part of the feast. An elder male blesses the animal with the sign of the cross, a request that God save the people in the coming year and provide prosperity for the children who provided the animal.

According to Gurage tradition, the sacrificial bull or goat must fall to the right side, or at least turned around to the right side afterwards.

After the bull is slaughtered the meat is made into the most-favored food in this festival season called “Kitfo”, a well-grinded raw soft beef well minced with homemade butter and plenty of seasoning.

The beef will be served with “Kocho”, a kind of pancake made from false banana. And then there is tej too, locally made drink made of pure honey. The Gurages use tremendous amount of honey just for this holiday.

The men take a shot of local alcohol while expressing their blessings. It is very exciting moment to get one of those Elderly Blessing. This moment might be like wining a lottery.

After meals, plenty of drinks and Ethiopian coffee ceremony, the villages are lit with music, dancing and the spirit of festivity.

Men line up for the feet-challenging traditional Gurage dance, which is also loved elsewhere in Ethiopia. Women dance with pants and they cover their hair with scarf for preparing for the fast tempo dance. Both women and men keep going at it without rest, like a short distance runner.

Although Meskel is celebrated everywhere in Ethiopia, I wonder why mesekel is the most popular holiday among the Gurage community. According to legend, this religious festival that is celebrated every year has its roots at the finding of the true cross where Jesus Christ was crucified by Queen Eleni, mother of Alexander the great.

According to this legend, for many years the cross on which Jesus was crucified was missing from the land of Israel. But after a long period of time, the Queen lead by the spirit of God ordered people to make bonfire and so she could follow the smoke to where it lands. She then started digging around that particular hilly area where the smoke rested. The hill, which was a site of dust collection for many years, is said to have been the rest place of the original cross - the cross where Jesus was crucified on.

After taking out this cross, which, according to believers, made many miracles in later years, they gave Ethiopia part of it, which the Ethiopian Orthodox church attests is in the Gishen mountains where the church of Saint Mary is located. This site is a place of annual pilgrimage for many Ethiopians in the first days of October each year.

Ethiopian Christians celebrate Meskel eve by setting big bonfire. The event is called Demera. Demera in Addis Ababa is held every year at mesekel square. But people across the country set the bonfire in nearby Orthodox Churches or near their homes.

Following Demera, it is common to see many Ethiopians with ash marks on their foreheads, in the form of a cross. The ash comes from the Demera event held the previous day. It is a sign for wishing for good and blessings. The usual festivity continues by dinning, drinking and, of course, having the colorful Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

We hope this Meskel holiday to be as bright and as peaceful as it has always been. We wish all Ethiopian a very joyful holiday.

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