(Solomon Dibaba: ENA)
Queen Helena, mother of Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, went to Jerusalem in search of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. There, she was guided by a dream to light a torch to be directed to the place where the True Cross was buried. In commemoration to the finding of the True Cross, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate Meskel.
Meskel is celebrated in Ethiopia among Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in a variety of cultural context depicting the plurality and multi-national profile of the country.
The majority of Ethiopians celebrate Meskel as a spring festival that demonstrates the relapse of the rainy season and the inception of bright spring accompanied by yellow daisies and a species of birds locally known as YeMeskel Wof.
The focus of the celebration is a bonfire topped with an image of a cross to which flowers are tied. Priests in full regalia bless the bonfire before it is lighted.
Among the Wolayita nationality, Meskel celebration is conducted in conjunction with Gifata, cultural New Year of the Wolyita, marked from September 20-28 with multiple festivities including open door dancing and feasting.
The Gurage people celebrate Meskel in a far more festive atmosphere in which family members reunite and exchange family greetings and gifts. It is during Meskel celebration that these diligent people usually go back to their village to enjoy their yearlong fruit of labor with family, relatives, friends and neighbors the best way they know how.
Since receiving the priceless blessings from the elders of the household or village is something that the Gurage people value the most in spite of the fruit of their labor, this once in a year Meskel celebration means going back to their amazingly green and loving village.
Even for non-believers, Meskel offers an excuse to experience Ethiopia in celebration, with bonfires, feasting and parties lighting up the country as they have for over 1600 years.
Meskel is a cross-cultural celebration that is conducted in a spirit of collectivism and unity of purpose among both rural and urban dwellers in Ethiopia. Meskel, among other things signifies a spirit of understanding and mutual respect among the nation’s nationalities, nations, nationalities, and peoples of the country.
The underlying values of Meskel denote hope and optimism for the entire population, as the beginning of the Ethiopian spring, hope for good harvest, sustained health, and peaceful coexistence among different peoples of the country. The spirit of coexistence and mutual support prevail during Meskel and of course through the entire year.
Meskel symbolizes the unity and diversity of the peoples of Ethiopia. This unity obtains its natural meaning only in diversity and this is more natural and social because unity among the peoples of Ethiopia is not only natural and social but also historical.
Although it is a religious celebration, it depicts how cultural heritages of this country are intertwined in the cultural attires, traditional music, cultural foods colorfully show a mosaic of nations, nationalities and peoples of this proud country.