Fasika – Ethiopian Easter
In our view, Easter is the ultimate festival to witness in Lalibela. It combines deeply spiritual rituals with an exuberant feasting that marks the end of Lent. Thousands of pilgrims gather, and Lalibela’s Saturday market takes on particular significance as people prepare for the feast that marks the end of the 55-day-long Lenten fast. Local residents and pilgrims alike make you feel very welcome, as they’re used to visitors joining in festival celebrations.
The Easter ceremony starts on Good Friday. Pilgrims dressed in white fill the churches, praying, resting, and listening to the priests. There is a spiritual solemnity to the events, as priests and deacons chant for many hours to the rhythmic jingling of sistrums and beating of drums. Some of the devout pilgrims around you had their ’Last Supper’ on Thursday evening and will not be eating or drinking anything until Sunday morning. They’re physically weak, and rest or sleep within the churches in between praying.
In Lalibela, Fasika is celebrated in every church, and as a visitor you can move from one church to another. In their white shawls, the pilgrims move from church to church themselves, bowing a certain number of times in each one depending on the promises they made to God in exchange for answering specific prayers.
The ceremonies culminate with a mass in the early hours of Sunday morning. In the dark, you sit on the stone walls above the rock-hewn Beta Mariam, where the largest collection of priests and congregation is gathered. You light candles and clap to the devotional music, looking down on the several hundred priests and deacons participating in the rituals below. It is rhythmic, mesmeric and beautiful.
At 4am, the church ceremonies complete, local residents and pilgrims disperse, and families gather to break their fast and celebrate. It can be emotional drinking and eating for the first time in over 48 hours. This is the start of feasting and celebrations that continue for the next week.
You can break fast with your guide’s family or enjoy a special Easter breakfast of eggs and spicy chicken in your hotel. Alternatively you join your guide for a traditional Easter lunch in his home.
Fasika in Lalibela and the Mountains and Monasteries of Tigray
This is a sample tour to give you an idea of cost and how you could experience Fasika in Lalibela and see many of Ethiopia’s historic highlights in just 10 days. We can tailor it in any number of ways.
- 3 days – Good Friday to Easter Sunday – observing the mesmeric masses, prayer rituals and processions by priests and pilgrims in the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela
- 1 day traversing a magnificent stretch of the Ethiopian Highlands between Lalibela and the Gheralta Mountains. (You can opt to fly between Mekele and Lalibela – we recommend the drive though.)
- 3 days at the Gheralta Lodge in Tigray visiting a few of the world’s most inaccessible mountain monasteries
- 2 days in Axum, the ancient capital of the Axumite Dynasty, including a visit to Yeha Temple – the oldest standing structure in Ethiopia
- 2 days exploring Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s historic capital
Starting from $1,825 per person* on double occupancy basis (excluding all flights)
Single supplement: $400
*Minimum group size 4
- All accommodation on B&B basis
- All airport and road transfers
- Entry fees and a local tour guides at all the historic sites and national parks
- An expert guide to accompany you throughout your tour
A few suggestions for tailoring your tour
- 1 day (1 night) in Gonder visiting the fortress city of Fasil Gnib and extra night in Axum
We organise special expert-led tour groups of no more than 12 people to experience Fasika – or Tintsaye as it it known locally – in Lalibela. We suggest that you arrive in Lalibela on Easter Friday and stay until at least Easter Monday.
Fasika is for those who would like to experience a solemn and moving religious event, and our expert-led Fasika tours are suitable for solo travellers, groups of adults, and journalists without flashing cameras.
You’ll receive a detailed itinerary of the events, and will have an experienced and knowledgeable local guide who will look after you as part of their own family. They will take care to explain everything so that you can enjoy Easter respectfully.
When to travel to Ethiopia for Fasika
As one of the Moveable Feasts, Fasika is calculated using the Ethiopian Calendar and is usually celebrated bit later in the year than Easter in the Western world. It usually falls in either March or April.
Our top tip for Fasika in Lalibela
“In Lalibela, unlike many other parts of Ethiopia, we refer to Fasika as Tintsaye, which means ‘rising’ rather than ‘feasting’. The best way to experience Tintsaye in my home town is to immerse yourself in the whole tradition over the four days without reservation. It’s about so much more than just the Easter Sunday mass. Spend time in the churches, take part in the breaking of the fast in the early hours of Easter Sunday, enjoy spicy chicken for breakfast, and wish people Melkam Tintsaye on Easter morning.”
For some background and insight into Christianity in Ethiopia try The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia by John Binns.
Flights to Ethiopia
What happens in an emergency?
Communicating in Ethiopia
Ethiopian time and dates
The weather and what to pack
Mobile phone coverage and Internet access in Ethiopia
Advice from locals
I travelled with Tadele Travel to see two key destinations in Ethiopia – Addis Abba and Lalibela. I was met as scheduled at the airport in Addis and delivered safely to my accommodation without a hitch. I felt thoroughly spoilt and well looked after the entire trip. The time is Addis was wonderful. The internal flight followed by my trek along the edge of the Rift Valley was utterly stunning and well organised. When I mentioned I was tired on the trek a pony was found for me much to my delight. All dietary requirements were taken into consideration and I really enjoyed the whole experience. Girma is a wonderful guide and spent time explaining the surroundings. The churches in Lalibela were spectacular and I felt truly informed after my day with a wonderful local guide. I highly recommend this team as their knowledge of Ethiopia is deep and their attention to detail reassuring. I loved the whole experience!
- Rachel Mansson, London