Monday, February 17, 2014

Timkat: A Celebration of Epiphany

Choir kids
Every year, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, AKA the Epiphany or Timkat. In Ambo, the celebrations begin in the morning, with everyone gathering around the fountain and waiting for their blessing of holy water from the priest, meant to symbolize the renewal of their baptism vows. There are drummers beating their huge leather traditional drums and kids in their choir uniforms, singing. All the Orthodox followers clap, sing, and chat.

Frantically unrolling the carpet
Then, around lunchtime, a parade-type procession begins down the main street. The Ark of the Covenant is coming…the actual Ten Commandments written by God in stone. Well, at least a replica of that is coming. The head priest carries the Ark of the Covenant on his head, while his helpers shade him with rich velvet umbrellas. Red carpet, strewn with grass, is rolled out in front of them, and the men unrolling the carpet struggle to unroll the carpet in front of the procession, and roll up the carpet in back of the procession. Looking exhausted, they do this for miles, constantly running back to front, pushing the crowd out of the way. Meanwhile, the priests walk slowly and methodically down the carpet.
Carrying the carpet

All around, crowds of Orthodox followers walk as near to the Ark as possible. Some clap, some sing, and some bend down to kiss the carpet that held up the Ark for a brief moment.

To avoid the crowds, we perched ourselves on our favorite 2nd-story restaurant, overlooking the street. We were joined by our friend Beenya - a 24-year-old shoe shiner with an 8th grade education - who spotted us from down below.

“How do you say Timkat in English?” he asked.

Procession down the main road

“Well, I think it is called the Epiphany,” we replied.

“Do you celebrate Timkat in America?” he asked.

We were stumped. “Maybe the Catholics? Or the Greek Orthodox? I don’t know.”

The Ark of the Covenant?

Kissing the carpet

Tired from all the walking

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