Meskel-Finding of the True Cross

Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), is the celebration of the finding of remnants of the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified.  The word “meskel” means “cross” in Amharic.  According to Christian tradition, St. Eleni (Empress Helena) discovered the hiding place of three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus.

In her dream, Eleni was told she should make a bonfire. Because the direction of the smoke would tell her the exact location of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified.  She followed the directions from her dream. Certainly, the smoke landed exactly where the cross was buried.

The Celebration of Meskel:

The celebrations begin the night before with large bonfires topped with a cross and decorated with flowers.  Further more, it is Marked with feasting, dancing and all kinds of merrymaking with bonfires and gun salutes. The occasion usually starts on the eve with the planting of a green tree in town squares and markets. Long tree branches are tied together and yellow daises called meskel are placed on top. The bonfire preparations are blessed and burned out. While revelers sing and dance around the fire, locally called demera. Hence, It is believed that the direction of the smoke will predict the future for the year to come.  Finally, after the demera has burnt out, the faithful mark crosses on their foreheads with the ash.

The next day, actual day of meskel, people go to the spot of the demera. They use the ashes to mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross. There is a lot to eat and drink as people celebrate together. One of the significant occurrences of the festival is the coinciding with the mass blooming of meskel flowers, the golden yellow daisies. 

The biggest Meskel celebration is in Addis Ababa, held in the centrally-located Meskel Square.  Gondar, Axum and Lalibela are also good locations to celebrate this festival.  Probably the most exuberant celebrations take place in the region of the Gurage people, southwest from Addis. More pictures on

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