Timket Ethiopian Epiphany

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By Haile-Gebriel Endeshaw
Banchayehu is a young girl in her early twenties. She serves a neighborhood family as a maid. Last Tuesday early in the morning I heard her arguing with the young house lady (her employer) that she should be given a day off on Friday so that she could enjoy celebrating the Timket festival.
“… Please, I need to have a day off on the coming Friday, Betty.” Banchayehu names the lady like any other family members or close friends. “I will have my friends waiting for me at Jan Meda… please,” she enquired.
“Banchiye, half a day is enough… The Tabot comes out of its temple on Friday starting around 2:00 PM in the afternoon. You will not get anyone in Jan Meda before noon. The singing and dancing will come on after 4:00 PM late in the afternoon… Why do you need to go out starting from early in the morning? I mean… what will you do there? … The whole family will go out after 2:00 PM. I myself will also go out to escort Medhanialem Tabot. I think you can go along with us. Let’s enjoy the festival together. Don’t you think this is the best way to celebrate Timket together, Banchu? … Or do you have something hidden from me?”
“No, please… I have an appointment with my friend… Betty, please… Please!”
“Your friend? … a ‘he’ or a ‘she’?”
“Please, don’t make fun of me, Betty! Please, let me go out to celebrate Timket by myself the whole day.”
Orthodox Christian people across the country are celebrating this year’s Ethiopian Epiphany (Timket) starting from last Friday. Even today, the 20th of January or the 12th of Tir (in the Ethiopian Calendar), many Orthodox Christians escort St. Michael Tabot back to its temple. St. Michael is commemorated on the 12th day of every month. This Tabot is not taken back to its temple along with the other Tabots on the 19th of January or the 11th of Tir. Because as the following day falls on the 12th of Tir, which signifies the day of St. Michael, worshipers take the opportunity to commemorate the day by escorting the Tabot back to its temple in a colorful procession.
Timket is best known for its colorful ritual ceremony. Actually, it is a three-day festival. Last Friday is the first day of the festival with a name Ketera. This day late in the afternoon Tabots will be escorted by the laities to places where they stay overnight. Tabots are models of the ark of the Covenant, or replica of tablets of laws received by Moses from God. Tabot is given extreme reverence by the Orthodox Christian followers. When the Tabot is out of the temple, it is covered by a colorful velvet and sheltered by big bright umbrellas so that infidels won’t view it. Available sources retell that “…the Tabot … represents the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah when he came to the Jordan [River] for baptism”. Yesterday, the 19th of January, was the main festival of Timket which is officially observed across the country. Orthodox Christians residing in Addis Ababa celebrated the event colorfully at a place called Jan Meda.
The name Jan Meda is a combination of two words, Jan and Meda. Jan (short for Janhoy) is a substitute word for ‘His Majesty King’ whereas ‘meda’ means ‘field’. Literally ‘Jan Meda’ means field of His Majesty. Jan Meda is a large open space situated in the north-eastern part of Addis Ababa. Various sports, religious festivities and other events are held here.
Every year Timket falls on January 19 (Tir 11 in the Ethiopian Calendar). By the way, the Ethiopian Calendar has 13 months in a year. The last month which is named Pagumen usually has five days which will be six in every four years. Wikipedia indicates that “…the Ethiopic calendar has 12 months of 30 days plus 5 or 6 epagomenal [inserted at intervals; intercalary] days, which comprise a thirteenth month. The Ethiopian months begin on the same days as those of the Coptic calendar, but their names are in Ge’ez. A 6th epagomenal day is added every 4 years, without exception, on August 29 of the Julian calendar, 6 months before the corresponding Julian leap day. Thus, the first day of the Ethiopian year, 1 Mäskäräm, for years between 1900 and 2099 (inclusive), is usually September 11 (Gregorian). However, it falls on September 12 in years before the Gregorian leap year…” There is a difference of eight years between Ethiopian and European calendars. For instance, this new European Year is 2019 but in Ethiopia it is 2011. This means that any foreigner who happens by chance to be in Ethiopia will become younger by eight years. Hey people, please don’t miss the opportunity of getting younger by visiting Ethiopia.
According to the interpretation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the term Timket was taken from the Ge’ez word Asteryo meaning ‘reveal’. Timket signifies the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate this festival by getting baptized with holy water blessed by priests.
On the eve of Timket (Ketera) Tabots will be taken out being carried by priests to Jan Meda and stay there the whole night. Commonly all Orthodox Christian laities escort the Tabots in procession. This time deacons and priests who are wearing colorful satin clothes sing hymn songs. Young and old people, most of whom dress up in national costumes, also sing, clap and dance giving thanks to their God.
Many people pass the night of Ketera around the big and colorful tent in which the Tabot is placed. They all pray, sing and eat the whole night. Then, early in the morning a big special mass will be held. Priests who are wearing colorful shema (cultural woven clothes) sing beautifully by shaking sistrum; waving their prayer stick (staff). The boo-boom and tim-tim sounds of a big drum being beaten by a priest, who is performing ritual dancing in the middle of the field, also give a special color to the event. What a colorful ritual service it is! Long after this, the baptizing service will be held. First, a priest dips his big cross in to the water and bless it. Then he splashes and sprinkles the holy water on all laities who push one another to get wet.
Like Meskel festival, the finding of the True Cross, Timket is also attended by many tourists and other foreigners who happen to be in Ethiopia.
Every Orthodox Christians are dressed up in their finest during the celebration of Timket. Once in Jan Meda with the Tabots, all the people celebrate the event by singing and performing various cultural and traditional dances. Young people make a big circle with one of the boys standing in the middle and blowing harmonica singing and dancing. Various sporting and lottery games are also seen being practiced.
For many young people Timket brings a good opportunity to get friends of opposite sex. The young man may choose his friend from among those pretty girls who are singing and performing cultural dances. He will ask her to join him in the dancing performance. First the girl may step back shyly in to the surrounding crowd. If the young boy insists by dragging her hand, she may cover her face with her palms and move forward to the open space which is full of dancing boys and girls. The new couple dance and chat in full view of the surrounding spectators. It is the boy who does the fondling, tugging, hugging, whispering in the girl’s ear… The togetherness may get further enabling the couple to make a tour of Jan Meda by munching sugarcane, chewing gum, sucking sweet candy, drinking soft drinks or eating fresh chickpea… Then they may invite one another and establish lasting friendship. There are many young people who have met their lifelong friends of opposite sex in Timket fields. …Who knows… this Timket may be a special day for Banchayehu to get her boyfriend for life!

The writer can be reached at: gizaw.haile@yahoo.com