Meskel, the Ethiopian ‘True Cross’ Celebration

meskel true cross ethiopia

Ethiopia follows a different calendar to the rest of the world, with the Ethiopian New Year falling on the 11th of September, or the 12th of September in leap years. However, the biggest celebration of the Ethiopian religious year comes later in the month. On September 26th, the True Cross celebration in Ethiopia is celebrated in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa. Most foreign visitors wishing to attend the traditional festival will be required to first get an Ethiopia Visa before traveling to Meskel in Ethiopia.

What is Ethiopian Meskel?

meskel celebration bonfire
The Ethiopia Meskel celebration is an annual religious holiday in the Ethiopian Orthodox church, and is held to commemorate the supposed discovery of the True Cross upon which Jesus was crucified by the Romans. The legend goes that in the 4th century BC the Roman Empress Helena received a vision in a dream telling her where to find the cross. She ordered the people of Jerusalem to collect wood, and the smoke from a huge bonfire apparently indicated the location where the cross was buried.

The True Cross Meskel celebration is considered the most important religious holiday in Ethiopia, largely because it’s believed that a piece of the cross Saint Helena discovered was brought to Ethiopia, and is housed in the mountains of Amba Geshen.

How is Meskel in Ethiopia celebrated today?

The Ethiopia True Cross festival is held in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Meskel Square is named after the festival, and every year on September 26th, thousands of Ethiopians descend on the space dressed in colourful robes. It’s there that the Demera, a large bonfire in commemoration of that of Empress Helena, is constructed.

ethiopian celebration
But before the fire is lit in the evening, the Demera procession takes place during the day. Religious leaders from all over Addis Ababa congregate with the people to bang drums and wave ornate crosses, and yellow daisies are used to decorate the firewood before it is burned. After the bonfire has died out, believers collect the charcoal and use it to mark the shape of a cross on their forehead.

Many Ethiopians believe that the Demera bonfire has the power to cancel sins, while others think the direction of the smoke and the way the bonfire collapses can be used to predict the future. If you want to experience the unique Meskel True Cross celebration in Ethiopia for yourself, don’t forget to apply for the Ethiopia eVisa well in advance of your trip.

What do tourists need to travel to Ethiopian Meskel?

Only two nationalities, immediate neighbours Kenya and Yibuti, can enter Ethiopia visa-free for periods of one year and 3 months, respectively. Passport holders of every other country in the world are required to get a Ethiopia Tourist Visa before travelling to the country for leisure purposes. Previously this had to be done by visiting a Ethiopian embassy or consulate in the applicant’s home country. Now, however, visitors to Ethiopia can get the online Ethiopian visa in advance of their travel to Meskel in Addis Ababa.

Citizens of 40 countries including the UK and the US are also eligible for the Ethiopia visa on arrival, but getting the eVisa Ethiopia before travel will save a lot of time and hassle at Ethiopian border control.

To meet the Ethiopia eVisa requirements, applicants must have a passport with validity of 6 months minimum from date of entry to Ethiopia. They must also provide:

  • A copy of the passport information page
  • A copy of the applicant’s residence card, if applicable
  • An up-to-date passport-style photo in colour
  • Debit or credit card details to pay the visa for Ethiopia fee
  • A current email address to receive the eVisa Ethiopia.

How to Get the Ethiopia Visa

In order to get the Ethiopia Tourist Visa for travel to the Ethiopia Meskel festival, it will be necessary to complete an Ethiopia eVisa application. The simple online form only takes minutes to fill in, and the majority of applications will be processed within 24 hours.

To complete the Ethiopia visa online form, applicants must fill in personal information including name, address, contact number and travel plans, as well as their passport details. It’s important to double-check the information provided in order to avoid any delays in the eVisa Ethiopia application process.

If the email address provided is correct, the applicant will receive the visa for Ethiopia in their inbox, and can then print a copy of the eVisa to present at border control when travelling to the Ethiopia Meskel holiday.