Timkat (also known as Timket) is an Orthodox Christian celebration of the Ethiopian Epiphany. It marks the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River.
Pilgrims come from far and wide to take part in the festival and witness the re-enactment of the baptism. All over the country, large crowds assemble as the religious festivities commence, with spectacular processions, song, dance, and prayer.
The festival takes place in Ethiopia every year on January 19th (or January 20th on leap years), starting with Ketera (preparations) the day before, and it lasts for three days.
In Addis Ababa, the festival is particularly spectacular. The streets are adorned with green, red and yellow to represent the Ethiopian flag and priests walk through the streets holding colorful and richly decorated umbrellas.
Timkat is celebrated by Orthodox Christians all over Ethiopia, so if you can’t make it to Addis Ababa you can still get involved in the celebrations.
The religious ceremony commences on the first day when models of the Ark of the Covenant, called Tabots, are carried to the river in a procession led by the most senior priest of each church, who carry the arks on top of their heads. At dawn, the water is blessed and sprinkled on the participants, some of whom jump in the water to renew their baptismal vows.
The Tabot symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets describing the Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai to serve as the core principles of the moral behavior for humanity.
The original Ark of the Covenant is said to be under permanent guard in Northern Ethiopia, protected by priests who have sworn never to leave the sacred grounds.
The second day of Timkat marks the main celebrations, with Orthodox Ethiopians from every segment of society merrily march through the streets in a riot of color, singing, dancing and feasting. All but one of the Tabots are returned to their respective churches.
On the third day of Timkat, known as the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the Tabot of St. Michael’s Church is returned, accompanied by a procession of priests and believers.