Ethiopian Christmas, Timket Festival and Historic Route Tour (Surface + Flight) - 15 days and 14 nights
Festivals in Ethiopia are very colorful, very traditional and very authentic in their nature. The centers of most or all of the major festivals are religious oriented but they are attractive to outside people as they are uniquely reflected in a traditional way. Most of these festivals are also practiced in its own different way from places to place given the fact that Ethiopia is a multi-cultural center.
It is not possible to see any elements of the western or civilized world in the whole celebration of these festivals except in big cities such as Addis Ababa, which are melting pots of different cultures for people from the four corners of the globe. Specially Addis Ababa being a diplomatic capital of Africa, it has attracted many foreigners residing and working under different organizations and this gave birth to the existence of a mega city with more of western features.
Due to the custom of practicing the Julian calendar in Ethiopia, Ethiopian x-mass or locally called “Genna” or “Lidet” falls a week after the rest of the world, around December 07th mainly.
The day is waited with 40 days long fasting among the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during which period no animal product such as milk, egg and meat will not be consumed and followers will strictly adhere to vegetables and cereals. The day 40 is to remember the 40 days that Christ was in the wilderness being tempted. Fasting goes from morning till 3:00PM.
On the eve of the celebration, people stay in churches doing their last prayer and around 3 after mid night a big chanting, singing and dancing will be done by colorfully decorated priests and deacons declaring the rise of Jesus. Then the mass goes home to partake the specially made hot spiced chicken called “Doro Wet”. Even those who have not gone to church will get up from their bed to dine with the family members together.
Young boys in the most rural part of the country play a cricket type of play named, “Genna” few weeks before arrival of the festival day making groups per their respective district or villages. Those who won will be awarded with sheep, or goats. Then they slaughter it and invite the villagers to fest together the following days. The morning of the festival day, it is customary for many Ethiopians (including the residents of Addis) to slaughter a big bull and share it to a group of 6, 8, 10 or 12 house hold). This tradition will strengthen the social fabric of the people as they dine on the spot taking a portion of raw meat one feeding the other one. Later people go back home to spend time with families.
The most colorful festival of Ethiopia in an open-air where one can see the jubilations, festivity, dancing and chanting on the air is Timket or Epiphany. The literal meaning of “Timket” is baptism. The festival is celebrated for the remembrance of the day where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in river Jordan.
On this day the ark of covenant will be taken out from the holy of holies to an open-air field but with a very sow and stagnant movement of people who carry the Ark being followed by deacons & priests that wear colorful costumes singing, dancing and chanting around. Then the mass surrounding them voicing up the religious chanting and song. Then the other great mass singing and dancing their own cultural and traditional music.
There is a trend of wearing the best cloth and shoe one has on this day. Also the girls put some decorations to bring out the beauties they have as this is a day to look for the life mate specially in the rural parts of the country and also in some big cities too.
The ark will rest at the selected field with in a tent and the whole night is dedicated for prayer and sanctification as for the religious clergies and for dating and chasing around girls as for the greater part of the young men.
Religion and culture is quite interwoven in the present Ethiopia. This can be witnessed by the values and norms of the people’s life. Christianity was first introduced in Ethiopia by the Ethiopian eunuch who meets Philip on the road to Gaza as in the book of Acts 8:27. But Christianity was fist accepted as state religion in the 4th century by King Ezana and the first church was erected in the present city of Axum around 342 and in Europe only Armenia was a Christian state at this period.
This tour with focus of attending the major festivals of the country is purely a Christian festival with elements of Judaism but also touches the major historical attraction sites. The trip takes one also to the most admirable scenic beauties of the country and gives another chance of interacting with the most vibrant and friendly Ethiopian people.
DAY 1 : Arrival, Addis Ababa
Up on arrival be meet by the staff of Off-Road Ethiopia Tour and transfer in. then proceed for sightseeing tour in Addis Ababa. Head to Entoto, the former capital of Ethiopia before moving to Addis Ababa around 1880s’. Visit the old mud made place of Emperor Minilik II, the Museum with its huge collection of the Royal family costumes and gifts. Admire the view of Addis from the top and drive back to the Ethnographic museum that has a nice displace of the cultural attributes of most of the Ethiopian 85 tribes and the Art center that has huge collection of Ethiopia paintings, crosses and Icons. Have lunch break and proceed to visit the Trinity cathedral which is the resting place for the last King, Emperor Haileselasse and part of his family members, the national museum where Lucy the 3.2 million years fossil and other important archeological findings are kept. Late drive to Merkato, the biggest open-air market in Africa. Have free evening and after late dinner be taken to the Trinity cathedral to attend the night mass for the celebration of Christmas which will be waiting in 40 days of fasting prayer among the Ethiopian Orthodox church believers. O/n Saro-Maria Hotel
DAY 2 : Drive to Bahir Dar
After an early morning breakfast head to Bahir Dar. En route visit to the 13th century monastery of Debre-Libanos which was an important teaching center for the Ethiopian Orthodox church that many titles of the top hierarchy of the church was even assigned from. Take time to see the old cave prayer place of the famous saint which is now the baptism place and also visit the newly built church and continue the drive. Again come across the Blue-Nile gorge which is comparable to the Grand Canyon in USA. Spend time for picturing and proceed to Bahir Dar. There will be a lunch break in the town of Debre-Markos. O/n Home land hotel or Abay Minch Lodge
DAY 3 : Bahir Dar
After breakfast take a boat trip on Lake Tana, the biggest lake in the country measuring 3,600 sq Km and is a source of the Blue-Nile River, the longest river in the world. The lake is dotted with about 30 islands of which 20 are home to monasteries and churches. Today we shall visit the nearly accessible monastery of Ura Kidane Mhiret believed to be established during the 16th century. Visit the interior colorful paintings that depict stories from the bible, also visit the small museum with in the compound that has parchments, crosses and costumes from the 13th to the 19th century. Back to Bahir Dar for lunch break. After lunch head to the small town of Tiss-Issat, literally meaning smoking fire. Cross the blue-Nile river with small boat and then take a walk to the base of the breath taking Blue-Nile falls. Take time of picture at the base of the falls and then back to Bahir dar. In the evening be taken to the Bezawit hill which has the place of Haileselasse and is an ideal location to admire the scenery of the surrounding with wonderful sun-set. O/n Home land hotel or Abay Minch Lodge
Day 4: Drive From Bahir Dar to Gondar
After breakfast head to Gondar. Along the road take a pause at the Guzara castle site to visit the ruined castle which was built before the establishment of the city of Gondar. Also take a visit to the nearby farm for “Chat” a mildly toxic plant that people chew to get high. Up on arrival in Gondar have lunch break and proceed to explore the medieval castle compound that has castles built by 7 different kings, an archive, a banquet and Turkish baths that are partly ruined. Later on head to the colorfully decorated and castle looking church of Debre-Birhan Selassie and finally visit to the basket market in Gondar market. O/n Taye Hotel or Florida International
Day 5: Drive From Bahir Dar to Semien Mountains
After breakfast head to the headquarter of the Simien mountains national park, Sankaber. En route visit to the Weleka, Ethiopian-Jews village. Then take a picture stop at Kossoye, the most scenic place along the drive to the park. Proceed driving to Sankaber. Up on arrival admire the colony of the endemic gelada baboon and also the wonderful looking scenery of the surrounding. O/n Simien Lodge
DAY 6 : Drive to Chenek
After breakfast drive to Chenek, another head quarter with stunning mountains and sceneries. Along the road also take a walk to sites where you can spot another endemic mammals called Walia Ibex. There will be a picnic lunch along the road. Later drive back to Sankaber. O/n Simien Lodge
DAY 7 : Drive From Chenek to Lalibela
After breakfast head to Lalibela via the Debre-tabor road. This is the most scenic road where one can also see the mountain bridge that divides the former administrative regions of the Wello and Gondar. O/n Mountain View, or Panoramic view Hotel
DAY 8 : Lalibela
After breakfast continue to explore the first group of rock-hewn churches of Lalibela built during the 13th century and represent the earthly Jerusalem. Visit each church with its biblical implications on the structures and paintings. Lunch break. After lunch head to explore the second group of rock-hewn churches which represent scenes of the heavenly Jerusalem. Finally visit the cross-shaped church of St. George which is regarded to be the third group and is the last work of church excavation by King Lalibela. O/n Mountain View, or Panoramic view Hotel
DAY 9 : Trek to Asheton Mountain
Early morning trek up to the Asheton Mountain that has a unique shape and can be easily seen on the main road to Lalibela. The mountain is important as being home to another monastery called Asheton Mariam. Use back of mules to trek up the wonderful mountain along the road meeting local people travelling down to Lalibela to buy their weekly ration or to fetch water. Visit the church, admire the surrounding scenery and back to Lalibela. Have lunch and rest and later afternoon head to the cave church of Nakutola’ab which is only 7 Kms from the town of Lalibela and built after the 11 churches are constructed by King Lalibela. O/n Mountain View, or Panoramic view Hotel
DAY 10 : Drive From Lalibela to Mekelle
After an early breakfast head to Mekelle, the regional capital for the Tigray people. Today we drive via the Sekota road, so we take a de-tour in the town of Bilbala to the colorfully decorated cave church of Yimrhane Kirstos which was built by the uncle of King Lalibela who came to power at later age. This church is surprisingly decorated with marbles and ebony wood that was imported from Israel during the 13th century. Then proceed to Mekelle. O/n Axum or The Yordanos Hotel
DAY 11 : Drive From Mekelle to Adigrat
After breakfast head to visit the rock-hewn churches of Dugum Selassie, Michael Barka, Abreha-Atsbeha and Wukro Cherkos and overnight in the town of Adigrat. O/n Geza G/Selassie
DAY 12 : Drive from Adigrat to Axum
After breakfast head to Axum. En route visit to the Negash mosque, the Debre-Damo monastery (the first one in Ethiopia established during the 6th century and can be visited by men only) and the Yeha temple which is more than 2800 years old.
DAY 13 : Axum
After an early morning breakfast head to explore the archeological and ancient city of Axum where the Ethiopian history, empire and religion have all started up. Visit the Stele filed, the Tomb of Kaleb and his son G/ Meskel, The stone inscription of King Ezana (4th Century king). Have lunch and continue the sightseeing to Axum’s St. Mary of Zion Church, where the original ark of covenant given to Moses is believed to be kept, the ruined palace of Queen Sheba and Ezana’s stele park. Have lunch break and then late afternoon head to the Axum’s St. Mary of Zion church to attend the annual Epiphany or “Timket” festival. The priests and deacons will be wearing colorful costumes holding a colorfully decorated umbrellas used during such religion occasions. The selected high priest shall also carry the replica of the Ark of the covenant will be surrounded with crowds of people dancing, chanting and singing variety of spiritual and secular songs. Such dates are also moments for young boys to get their life partners or girlfriends in places such as Axum. Attend this fabulous ceremony till the Arc rests in its usual place, where a pool of water is reserved for prayer and later sprinkled on the mass as holy water. O/n Brana Hotel or Consular International Hotel. (B & D)
DAY 14 : Fly From Axum to Addis Ababa & Drive to Wenchi
In the morning fly back to Addis Ababa. The same day drive to Wenchi Crater Lake to take a boat ride and visit the monastery of Cherkos and also admire the surrounding of the serine lake. Along the road come across many festivity by a group of people dancing and singing for the same Epiphany festival. After having a boat trip on Lake Wenchi, then drive to Weliso for overnight stay. O/n Negash Lodge.
DAY 15 : Drive from Weliso to Addis Ababa & Departure
Drive back to Addis Ababa and time of shopping. Evening transfer out for departure.
Off-Road Ethiopia Tour wishes you a pleasant stay!
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