The Cross - Meskel

This morning I came back to my house from yesterday's over night prayer vigil in Church and I slept. When I woke up around noon I found my friend's missed call and I called him back. He said he called me to say, "Happy Meskel!" And I replied, "Thanks, Happy Meskel to you too!" He said he was doubting to call me because I might not celebrate Meskel. I told him that to call one another in order to say a good wish in this kind of special occasion is a wonderful culture which should be encouraged and nurtured; and therefore it's worth of celebrating.

Meskel is an annual religious holiday in the Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox and Catholic Churches commemorating the discovery of the True Cross of Jesus by Queen Helena (in Abyssinia Eleni) in the fourth century. Queen Eleni was the mother of Rome's Emperor Constantinople.

The Meskel celebration includes the burning of a large bonfire, or Damera, based on the belief that Queen Eleni had a revelation in a dream. She was told that she shall make a bonfire and that the smoke would show her where the true cross was buried. So she ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood and make a huge pile. After adding frankincense to it the bonfire was lit and the smoke rose high up to the sky and returned to the ground, exactly to the spot where the Cross had been buried.

Then I asked my friend whether he participated in a "Damera-procession" and if so which direction that Damera fell. There is a belief that if it fell towards the East it would bring good omen of harvest and prosperity for the nation in the coming year. Nostalgically he replied, "Don't ask about Damera in a strange land!" And he told me a story about an incident which he always remember in regard to Damera.

This event occurred in 1977/78 when there was a war between Ethiopia and Somalia. And the Somalia Siad Barre soldiers before they were forced to retreat they controlled all areas in the East and South of Ethiopia, which they had allegedly claimed as territory of Somaliland. And their momentum seemed unstoppable. It was a major concern for Ethiopians.

My friend was a young boy at that time. It was in one of the neighborhoods in Addis Ababa. And people used to gather in unity to burn the Damera. And the man who coordinated this particular Damera-procession declared that if the Damera fell to the East the victory would be to Ethiopia. And all the people including my friend were watching in great anxiety and superstitiously on that burning Damera, which would determine the fate of their beloved nation.

Despite there are before hand techniques which some usually mischievously use to make the Damera to fall to a pre-determined direction, unfortunately this time it began to incline towards the west. And that coordinator began to run towards the flame engulfed Damera and using a log pushed it with all his mighty towards the East. And the people who were watching the dreadful scene were so relieved that they began to cheer and laugh. And thanks to this man's great patriotism, finally Ethiopia won the war.

Happy Meskel To All!

Love and blessings

Brehane-meskel Araya