Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox: Sprinkle daisies for Meskel

A youth plays in Meskel Square in EthiopiaTUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27: From New York to Seattle, most Americans think of “Meskel” as the name of popular Ethiopian restaurants. But, today, families associated with Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches celebrate the true meaning of Meskel (sometimes spelled “Maskal”)—the discovery of the “true cross.”

Ethiopia boasts many ancient stories concerning Judaism and Christianity—and the “true cross” celebration certainly marks one of the richest traditions. Most Christians around the world—whatever their denomination—have some kind of annual observance contemplating the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Catholic and Orthodox Christians, in particular, are familiar with the centuries of sacred stories concerning holy relics. The “true cross,” a phrase Christians use to describe relics from Jesus’ actual cross 2,000 years ago, ranks among the world’s most venerated of scared objects. Bits and pieces of the “true cross” have circled the globe.

For Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians, this holiday and their nation’s role in the story of the “true cross” is matter of great national pride. Christians from this part of the world believe that a major portion of the true cross was brought from Egypt to Ethiopia, where it now lies at Amba Geshen. Each year near at Meskel, Meskel daisies—yellow flowers of Ethiopia that signify the end of the rainy season—are placed on wood that is burned in huge bonfires, commemorating the smoke that led Saint Helena to the cross’ location in the 4th century.

Today, priests carry silver Coptic crosses and dance, along with costumed devotees, around the fires. Although the original finding of the cross is believed to have been in March, the Church moved the holiday to avoid interference with Lent. Wikipedia has a short article about Meskel.

Plans have recently been revealed to revitalize Meskel Square, the largest square in Ethiopia whose lengthy history matches its size. (Read more news here.) Three Ethiopian architects designed a new square that will encourage automobile usage beneath the surface, leaving the ground level free for pedestrian use. The new ground level of the square will include a library, café, restaurants, sports activity areas and statues.

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