· 2 months ago

An Epiphany in Ethiopia The Timket Religious Festival in Lalibela, Northern Ethiopia

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The east African nation of Ethiopia (ኢትዮጵያ) is known for its ancient history and rich cultural heritage. The north of Ethiopia is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lalibela (ላሊበላ), a holy town renowned for its eleven rock-hewn churches, and the Timket celebration.

Lalibela's eleven rock-hewn churches are incredible monolithic structures that have served as active churches since they were carved out of solid rock in the 12th and 13th Century AD. Symbolically, Lalibela is deemed to be the second Jerusalem for Ethiopia's Christians.

Timket (Feast of Epiphany) is one of the most important religious festivals in Ethiopia. Also written as Timkat, (‘ጥምቀት’ in Amharic) the festival commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ at the symbolic stream named after the River Jordan. This celebration at Lalibela is considered to be similar to Hajj for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.

The Timket celebration occurs on January 18 and 19 every year at Lalibela, North Ethiopia. Did you know that Ethiopia uses a different calendar system to the western world? The Ethiopian calendar consists of 13 months, with 12 months comprising 30 days each and the 13th month consisting of 5 or 6 days, depending on whether it's a leap year or not.

What happens at Timket?

The deeply spiritual celebration of Timket involves colorful processions, chanting and prayers. Pilgrims come to seek blessings and renewal of their faith in this sacred communal baptism.

The processions include priests carrying Tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant) from churches to nearby bodies of water. Tabots are replicas of the Ark of the Covenant which every Ethiopian church keeps.

The climax of Timket occurs as pilgrims receive a splash of holy water which is considered as cleansing of one’s sins and a renewal of faith. In addition to its religious significance, young men and women often meet their future partners on occasions like Timket. It is a social show up where everyone is dressed to their best.

A popular Ethiopian saying goes, “Letmket Yalhone Kemis Yibetates (ለጥምቀት ያልሆነ ቀሚስ ይበጣጠስ)” literally meaning “a dress not worn for Timket should be torn down” — the best dress you have should be worn for Timket!

How to reach Lalibela, Ethiopia?

The easiest way to get to Lalibela is using the one hour local flight of Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa.

Where else is Timket celebrated in Ethiopia?

Gondar, also in North Ethiopia, is where Timket is celebrated most colorfully. But because of its popularity, it is considered too crowded by many pilgrims. Addis Ababa is also another option to experience Timket festival.

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2 Reviews 5/5


Tour Operator and Tour Guide, Merit Ethiopian Experience Tours

Hello everyone,

I'm Muluken from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I’m the founder and tour operator/guide at Merit Ethiopian Experience Tours [MEET].

Learn more about our tours at www.meetmule.com

Since 2004, I've had the pleasure of arranging hundreds of private tours and guiding travelers from all over the world to interesting sites of Ethiopia.

At MEET, we specialize in crafting personalized tours, from city tours in Addis Ababa to breathtaking day trips and multi-day excursions across Ethiopia.

Ethiopia's rich history, unique culture, and stunning landscapes never cease to amaze me. Lalibela, with its remarkable rock-hewn churches carved centuries ago, is a personal favorite.

That brings me to my first post here at Travel Massive! I want to share my insights on a truly must-experience cultural and religious festival Timket (or Ethiopian Epiphany).

Please read, leave any comments, questions, or reviews you may have – I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thank you!
Muluken Girma

PS: Dreaming of an Ethiopian adventure? Would you join us on a journey including Ethiopian Epiphany (Timket) at Lalibela? Ask us anything about planning your trip in the comments!

2 months ago (edited)
Founder, Travel Massive

Hi Muluken, thanks for sharing about Ethiopia on Travel Massive!

A few quick questions:

1. How many people attend Timket in Lalibela?

2. Do many tourists visit Lalibela outside of Timket? Are there things to do, and see?

3. What are the main countries of origin (ie. nationality) of tourists who visit Ethiopia?

I also found it interesting to learn about the different calendar system in Ethiopia! Does this lead to much confusion when doing business with people from other countries?

2 months ago (edited)
Tour Operator and Tour Guide, Merit Ethiopian Experience Tours

Hello Ian,

Thank you very much for your questions!

1. How many people attend Timket in Lalibela?
While I don't have precise figures on the exact number of attendees at Timket in Lalibela, my estimate is that over 100,000 local Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on pilgrimage and international visitors to experience this cultural and religious celebration.
Lalibela itself is a small town of about 50,000 people. But, during Timket, the churches, hotels, streets, Timket celebration areas are quite crowded. So, to ensure a smooth experience of Timket at Lalibela, it's vital to arrange flights, accommodation or ground transportation well in advance.

2. Do many tourists visit Lalibela outside of Timket? Are there things to do, and see?
Yes, Lalibela is the most visited tourist destination in Ethiopia, even outside of Timket. Lalibela’s main attraction is the eleven churches which date back to the 12th and 13th Century AD which are carved by hand from a living stone. These unique underground rock-hewn churches are the first sites of Ethiopia to be recorded by UNESCO as World Heritages (1978).

Apart from the 11 rock churches in the town of Lalibela, there are some interesting monolithic, semi-monolithic and cave built up churches which were established before, after and during the times Lalibela churches were carved. In addition to religious sites, visitors can take trekking trips to enjoy scenic mountains and valleys near Lalibela. Trekking to Mount Abune Yosef (4,260 meters above sea level) is the best option for trekkers as visitors can spot local wildlife, including the Ethiopian endemics – Simien Fox (Ethiopian Wolf) and Gelada Baboons, along the way.

3. What are the main countries of origin (nationality) of tourists who visit Ethiopia?
United States, China, UK, Germany, Italy, and France are some of the top tourist origin countries to Ethiopia.
Yes, Ethiopia is still following the ancient Julian calendar (currently 2016). It might feel it is 7 or 8 years ‘behind’ the Gregorian calendar. As locals have it, visiting Ethiopia might make you feel 8 years “YOUNGER”.

While the Ethiopian government offices, local businesses, the media, etc. use the Julian or Ethiopian calendar, almost all individuals working with international businesses or people in a different country use a dual calendar showing both the Julian and Gregorian dates, months, and years. So, with the dual calendar, many Ethiopians are comfortable with both calendars and can easily switch between them.

I hope an answered your questions.

Thanks a lot again!

Best regards,
Muluken Girma

2 months ago
YouTube | OTA, African Travel Crew

Thank you for sharing. Fascinating, there's so much I don't know about this remarkable country.

2 months ago
Tour Operator and Tour Guide, Merit Ethiopian Experience Tours

Hi Neil,

Thank you for your comments!!

I'm glad you found it fascinating! Yes, Ethiopia truly is a remarkable country with so much to discover.

I'll continue sharing posts about Ethiopia's rich attractions, culture, and experiences.

Stay tuned for more insights on Ethiopia!

Thanks again, Neil!

Best regards,
Muluken Girma

2 months ago
Event Organizer & Traveler, GlobalGaz

I have been to Lalibela, but unfortunately not during this celebration

1 month ago
Tour Operator and Tour Guide, Merit Ethiopian Experience Tours

Hello Ric,

Thank you for liking my post and your comments!

It's wonderful to hear that you've had the opportunity to visit the rock churches of Lalibela. I think you can imagine how lively and memorable the experience would be during the Timket Celebration.

Best wishes,
Muluken Girma

1 month ago
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An Epiphany in Ethiopia

2 reviews

An Epiphany in Ethiopia was posted by Muluken Girma in Festival , Ethiopia , Lalibela , Africa , Culture , Heritage . Featured on May 14, 2024 (2 months ago). An Epiphany in Ethiopia is rated 5/5 ★ by 2 members.