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One of Ethiopia’s more popular attractions to catch the eye and interest of tourists is the yearly Meskel celebration. The September Meskel Festival marks the finding of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The festival is ancient, dating back over 1,600 years. It is celebrated with yellow Meskel daisies placed on top of huge bonfires that are lit in the evening in front of the throngs of celebrants.
The main Meskel celebration includes the burning of a large bonfire, the Demera, in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. This takes place on the eve of Meskel, and is based on the belief that Empress Eleni, the mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, 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. She ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring wood, and after adding frankincense, the bonfire was lit and the smoke rose high up to the sky. It then fell back to earth and returned to the ground, swirling around at the exact spot where the Cross had been buried.
During the celebration of the Finding of the True Cross, ornately robed priests carrying silver crosses dance with their followers around the fires singing and chanting and carrying flaming torches. Sunday school students dressed in traditional Ethiopian plain white clothes furnish color to the event by singing hymns and presenting colorful spiritual and artistic religious shows to the crowd. Millions of followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrate Meskel every year throughout the country. The festivities also mark the end of the three-month long rainy season and the return of summer to Ethiopia. No rain is expected to occur after Meskel – and indeed it is rare for this to happen. The scenery of this religious festival is a feast for the senses and for the soul.
The Meskel festival is unique to Ethiopia. No other country celebrates the Finding of the True Cross, and it is a celebration as old as the actual finding of the True Cross. Ethiopia is now engaged in an effort to register the Meskal festival as one of the World’s Cultural Heritage experiences. We believe it deserves this designation because of the ancient nature of the celebration, its color and significance and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society and of people of all ages which adds to its inimitable quality. UNESCO should seriously consider welcoming the Meskel celebrations as a World Cultural experience, contributing significantly to the enrichment of human culture.

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