Timket festival, the annual Ethiopian Epiphany festival to mark baptism of Christ

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians have rounded off the three-day Ethiopian epiphany, the baptism of Jesus Christ, with an assortment of unique and colourful religious and cultural activities.

The event on Monday was marred by a sudden collapse of a wooden bench that injured more than 100 people in Ethiopia’s northwestern Gondar city, with an estimated 15,000 foreigners attending.

The incident occurred when a wooden bench constructed to serve as a sitting place for people attending the epiphany celebrations in Gondar city collapsed as it was forced to accommodate beyond its capacity, Amhara Mass Media Agency (AMMA) quoted Tesfa Mekonen, head of Gondar city peace and security department, as saying. The official had not disclosed the number of people killed from the deadly incident. According to Mekonen, among the victims that have sustained light physical injuries are two foreign nationals. Authorities are, however, yet to announce the two injured foreign nationals’ citizenship.

The official further stressed that the wooden bench, which was initially built to accommodate about 700 to 1,000 invited guests, collapsed as it was boarded by many unexpected others who were eager to take part in the baptism event. The injured also include two security personnel who were protecting the wooden bench from the crowd, according to Gondar city peace and security department.

Eyewitnesses confirmed to Xinhua that security personnel and volunteers were seen undertaking lifesaving activities shortly after the incident that happened in the early hours of Monday.

The Ethiopian epiphany (Timket in Amharic), which is largely considered as one of Ethiopia’s highly rated public events, is a three-day affair involving distinctive religious and cultural activities that commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

Even though the core religious idea attached to the Ethiopian epiphany is similar to other Christians worldwide, the celebrations are quite unique in Ethiopia.

Last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had inscribed Timket on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which was attributed to unique Timket celebrations across Ethiopia – Africa’s second populous nation with an estimated 107 million total population.

The commemoration of the epiphany starts on the eve of the main festival, which falls on Jan. 18, or Jan. 19 during leap year such as this year’s edition of the celebration. On the first day of the celebration, the Ark of the Covenant replicas (Tabots in Amharic) of each church are carried out in procession to a public space where the next main day’s celebration will take place. A special tent is set up at the public space where each replica of the Ark of the Covenant rests as members of the church choirs chant hymns all night long and are accompanied by priests with their prayer.

The beating of drums, ringing of bells, and other spiritual activities are also integral parts of the Timket celebrations. The Tabots symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The second day of the celebrations on Jan. 19, or Jan. 20 during a leap year, is the main day of the Ethiopian Epiphany celebrations, in which Ethiopian orthodox congregations from all segments of the society march cheerfully when the Tabots made way back to respective churches. On the third day of the celebration, which is known as the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, only the Tabot of St. Michael’s is returned to its church with the same singing and dancing of priests and believers.