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Holiday Traditions Around the World: Part 2 – Ethiopia


Timkat in Ethiopia

Each January, the remote city of Gondar is inundated with pilgrims during the religious festival of Timkat, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. One of the most important holidays of the year, Timkat is a two-day festival beginning on January 19th that celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.

On the first day, Ethiopian Orthodox Christian priests hold a procession of the Tabots, which are holy replicas of the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred chests described in the Book of Exodus as carrying the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments. The Tabots, wrapped in luxurious cloth, are rarely seen by the public, so there is great fanfare as the priests parade them to the Fasilides Bath. The priests, wearing colorful ceremonial robes, are escorted by drums to the bath while pilgrims fill the streets, singing and clapping.

Worshipers hold an overnight vigil until dawn, and on the second-day priests bless the waters of the holy bath during morning services. Once the water is blessed, the mood turns jubilant, and spectators rush to jump into the bath’s pool. Worshipers believe the water is blessed by the Holy Trinity and that the sick will be cured by a sprinkle, a dip, or full immersion. As the afternoon wares on, the crowds leave the pool and congregate on the streets to parade the Tabots back to their respective churches. Some worshipers fill the churches for a final service, but all locals eventually return home for a special feast. The Timkat festival has been celebrated in Ethiopia since the 16th century. It is celebrated differently in other areas of the country depending on the availability of water.

Fun Facts:

• The celebration of Timkat is also known as Timket or Timqat.

• The Tabots represent the manifestation of Jesus as the Messiah when he came to the Jordan for Baptism.

• During the festival, participants dress according to their role in the celebrations. Clergy dress in colorful ceremonial robes, congregants dress in all white, and children wear colorful crowns and clothes.

• The Fasilides stone bath is a UNESCO world heritage site and was built in 1632 for King Fasil.


More information on Timkat in Ethiopia can be found at: