The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, along with all other Eastern Churches (Russian, Greek Armenian, Egyptian Orthodox), celebrated Orthodox Christmas on January 7th and Epiphany on January 19th. As Ethiopian Christmas approached, there was definitely a buzz in the air. It was harder to get a mini-bus taxi, never mind get on one! There were garish decorations in various places, but mostly an increase in the number of sheep and chickens on the street for sale.
But Timket (Epiphany) was another thing all together. In the West, we celebrate Epiphany as the coming of the Wise Men to visit the child Jesus. But in the tradition of the Eastern Church, the baptism of Christ is celebrated. To say it is a huge celebration would be an understatement. The Orthodox Churches are built like the tabernacle in the Old Testament, with an outer court, an inner court and the Holy of Holies. In the Holy of Holies is a representation of the Ark of the Covenant, called a Tabot. Only the priest can go into the Holy of Holies. On the eve of Timket, the tabots are removed from the Holy of Holies in each church and a procession is held to a central meeting place in the city. Here, the faithful meet; some stay all night, and are sprayed with holy water as a way to remind them of their baptism.
The next day, on Timket, the tabots are paraded back to the churches and returned to the Holy of Holies until the next year. Right outside our compound one of the major events occurred. Two canopies had been set up, traffic was stopped, grass was spread on the street and there was a huge sense of anticipation in the air. Red, green and yellow banners (the colors in the Ethiopian flag) were strung all along the streets. Soon people were dancing and singing their way down the street, coming from another meeting place to return the tabots to the church. First there were choirs, singing, dancing and playing drums, with great joy. The procession moved along very slowly, the reason initially not obvious, but it soon became so. Those priests who were accompanying the tabots back to the church were walking only on red carpets. This meant that there were 3 pieces of red carpet, probably each about 12 feet in length, that were continuously being rolled up, carried to the front and unrolled–all the way up the street, probably for several kilometers! The procession stopped in front of our compound and some sort of ceremony was held with the tabots and then proceeded up the hill to the church. For as far as we could see there was a sea of people. It was a happy, joyous and colorful celebration.