Meskel Celebrations in Addis Ababa

This photo essay is a step back in time. I have recently been organizing and looking back at my photos from many years, trying to review my vision and hopefully build a stronger and more organized archive of visual stories. I hope you enjoy! 

Meskel is one of my favourite holidays in Ethiopia. Celebrating the “Finding of the True Cross” legend has it that Saint/Empress Eleni had a dream that if she built a huge bonfire, the smoke would lead her to find where the true cross of Jesus was buried. When she woke up, she ordered the people of Jerusalem to make a huge wooden pile, put frankincense on it and sure enough, the smoke rose high in the sky and led her to finding the location of the true cross. Meskel is also the name of the small yellow flowers that bloom across the country during this period of time.

Across Ethiopia, this day is celebrated with a huge bonfire called demera. In Addis Ababa’s Meskel Square, the celebration is magnificent with tens of thousands of people attending. We were so impressed by how quiet and peaceful the celebrations were despite the masses of people. Almost like an open air church service rather than a festival. Churches from across the city will parade all the way to the centre of the city. As it gets dark, one person shares the fire on their wax candle  to their neighbour until the whole square is lit up. The demera is almost as high as a building and once it is lit, people sing, dance and celebrate.

If you enjoyed this essay, check out my blog post on celebrating Meskel in Bahir Dar.


If you enjoyed this essay, check out my blog post on celebrating Meskel in Bahir Dar.


5 thoughts on “Meskel Celebrations in Addis Ababa

  1. I’ve missed your superb portraits and your insights into this country I’ll never visit. A beautiful evocation of Meskel celebrations as experienced by you and many particular Ethiopians. A question: what is the woman in the blue turban carrying in the yellow bag?

  2. I wonder why people celebrate Meskel a little differently in Addis Ababa from how they do it in Bahir Dar. From your photos, the celebration in the Ethiopian capital looks solemn and more restrained, while in Bahir Dar it does sound like a festival.

    1. Good question! My gut feeling is that it probably has to do with size of the event. In Addis there are literally tens of thousands of people whereas in Bahir Dar, there are a lot fewer.

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