Timket (Epiphany) is the greatest colourful festival of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia, falling on 19 January or 20 January (once in every four year when it is leap year). It celebrates the baptism of of Christ in the river Jordan by John the Bapist. It is three – day affair and all the ceremonies are conducted with great spectacle.
The eve of Timket 18 Jan is called Ketera. This is when the tabots (replicas of the Ark of the Covenant) of each churches being carried out in a procession to a place near a river or the water of a pool where the next day’s celebration will take place. A special tent is set up where each Tabots rest, each hosting a proud manner depicting the church saint in front. The members of the church choirs chant the hyms. This is accompanied to nearby body of water.by special dance of priest with their pray sticks and sistera, the heading of the drum, ringing of bells and blowing of trumpets.
A Tabot symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant and the ten tablets of the low, which Moses received on Mount Sinai. It is the Tabot rather than church building, which is concentrated, and it is accorded extreme relevance. When the Tabot is carried out, it is wrapped in brocade or velvet “like mantle of Christ” and carried on the head priest, and colorful ceremonial umbrella shade it. Processional crosses of varying size and elaboration, and a very Ethiopia art characteristic are also seen on the occasion. The priests pray through out the cold night and mass are performed about 2 A.M.
The next day (19 Jan) towards dawn concours of people and ecclesiastics go to the water and attend the praying of the priests. After the pray, a senior priest dips a golden processional cross which is blessing the water and extinguishes a burning consecrated candle in the water. Then he sprinkles the water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ’s baptism. Many of the more fervent leaps fully dressed into the water to renew their vows. Timkete Kerstos – baptism of Christ, ceremony is merely a commemoration, not an annual rebaptism. After the baptism the Tabots of each church, except Saint Michael’s church, start their way back to their respective churches. The priests, deacons continue up to the end of the day.
The elders marching solemnly, accompanied by singing, leaping of priests and young men, the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalls the ancient rites of the Old testament (1) Sam. Chap.6)
The next day, 20 Jan, is feast of Michael the Archangle, Ethiopia’s most popular saint. And it is only in this morning it is returned to his church, again on its way is accompanied by the feast , singing and dancing of the priests and locals with their colorful dressing. Thus ends the three-day celebration, a unique ceremony oe the Ethiopian orthodo church, which evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the world. Timket truly is the most spectacular of Ethiopia’s festival.