Meskel Celebration

Ethiopia is an old land of towering mountains and deserts and impossibly blue lakes strewn across the grassy highlands like scattered jewels. Man's first beginnings were in the arid lowlands of the Awash

while the highlands to the west nurtured the Copts and their form of Christianity that came there from Egypt in the 4th century. The queen of Sheba is reputed to have graced this land and her son Menelik began the Solomonic Empire.

Somewhat later, the priest king Prester John built an isolated Christian empire that rivaled many of its Islamic neighbors. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa to have ever developed a written language, Geez, which is still used by Coptic priests and monks who read from parchment bibles in rock-hewn churches. Surprisingly, not much has changed and Ethiopia remains today a world-class destination for the thoughtful traveler.

Among Ethiopia Coptic Christian traditions is the September Meskel Festival marking the finding of the true cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The festival is ancient; dating back 1,600 years and it is celebrated with yellow Meskel daisies placed on top of huge bonfires that are light in the evening in front of the throngs of celebrators. Ornately robed priests carrying silver Coptic crosses dance with their followers around the fires singing and chanting and carrying flaming torches. The flowering of the cross-shaped Meskel daisies also marks the end of the 3-month long rainy season and the return of the sun.

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