Spending the holidays away from home can be one of the most difficult aspects of long-term travel. Whether people are religious or not, the holidays are a time for tradition and family togetherness. However, when people are far away from the familiar, it can be very easy to start feeling lonely; at least until they get used to their new environment and traditions, which include celebrating local holidays the way locals do, writes Samuel Getachew.
The newly minted Irish top diplomat to Ethiopia, Sonja Hyland, who has held her current position for mere months, has had a very busy few months in Ethiopia. For the veteran diplomat, who was previously stationed in Mexico, it is not Ethiopia’s booming construction in the capital – signs of the country’s progress which has been dubbed as one of the fastest growing economies in the world – that has grabbed her attention, but the cultural mystique of a nation whose culture is unique in the world.
Similar to the flock of tourists that are coming to the nation looking for a unique cultural experience, she is travelling throughout the country, especially in the rural parts inspecting aid projects supported from home and embracing a new culture. In the meantime, the local Irish embassy is in high gear recording her journey to its almost 4,000 followers on Twitter while also marking the opening of the first Irish pub in Addis Ababa.
There is her in Adigrat, helping light the Demera bonfire in celebration of Meskel (a holiday that marks the finding of the Cross of Jesus Christ).
In Addis Ababa the bonfire in Meskel Square towers above the crowd, and the lighting of it – by the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church – is a public spectacle. It’s preceded by colorful religious processions as large crowds light candles and sing hymns.
The lighting of the bonfire is based on the belief that Queen Eleni, as she is known, had a revelation in a dream. She was told that she should 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.
Addis is probably the most dramatic place in which to experience this Ethiopian orthodox Christian- festival, but you can enjoy the rituals, singing, dancing and feasting beneath red-yellow-and-green bunting in almost any town or village across the country.