Timket – Ethiopian Epiphany
For Ethiopians, Timket is the most important religious festival of the year; for many visitors, it’s the most spectacular. Thousands of Ethiopians travel to their nearby towns to join in the three-day celebration of Epiphany that starts on 18 January each year. In Orthodox churches, Epiphany celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and sprinkling (or spraying!) the faithful crowds with holy water is central to this joyous celebration.
The religious rituals are only one aspect of being in an Ethiopian city or town during Timket, and before the processions and rituals start, the towns are buzzing. You wander through the streets, with thousands of relaxed and smiling people who’ve travelled from their homes to rejoice and celebrate. Everywhere there are people greeting friends and family, chatting and gathering in small groups to dance and sing.
The evening before Timket, priests from each church walk through the town, carrying their church’s carefully wrapped replica of the Ark of the Covenant (a Tabot) on their heads. Their destination is the river or pool where they will commemorate Christ’s baptism in the morning. In Lalibela there’s a designated Timket park, that includes a viewing platform and cross-shaped pool so that as many visitors as possible can take part. In Gondar this part of the ceremony takes place by the castle pool.
The processions are a blaze of colourful splendour and vibrant celebration. Priests and deacons wear richly embroidered robes, and carry ornate crosses, smoking censers, and beautiful fringed umbrellas whose sequins and gold threads gleam in the sunshine. In contrast, the faithful are dressed in simple flowing white shemma (cotton robe). Swaying musicians and clapping members of the public accompany the priests, at some points chanting seriously and at others singing loudly and ululating joyfully. Underneath it all is the steady rhythm of the procession that the priests beat out with their prayer sticks.
Priests and deacons pray through the night, and a mass is held in the dark hours of the morning beside the water. Before sunrise the next day the pilgrims gather around the pool for the final blessing. Then the faithful are sprinkled with holy water, the priests using hose pipes to reach those who can’t get close to the pool. Then it’s time for the Tabots to be returned to their churches. The processions are reversed before the feasting begins.
Timket in Gonder and the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela
This is a sample tour to give you an idea of cost and how you could experience Timket in Gonder and see many of Ethiopia’s historic highlights in just 9 days. We can tailor it in any number of ways, including spending Timket in Lalibela rather than Gonder.
- 2 days in Gonder experiencing ketera – the colourful procession of a replica of the Ark of the Covenant to the freshly filled Fasiledes Bath – the Timket celebrations, and fortress city of Fasl Gnib
- 3 days exploring the reknown rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and visiting Yemrehanne Kristos and the Asheton Maryam Monastery in the surrounding hills
- Observing the celebration of the saint’s day of St Michael the Archangel in the church of St Michael in Lalibela
- 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 £1,595 per person on double occupancy basis (excluding all flights)
Single supplement: £200
- 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
- 3 days (2 nights) on a community walk in the Lasta Massif near Lalibela
- 3 days in the magnificent Simien Mountains National Park (2 nights in the Limalimo Lodge and 1 night camping)
- 2 days (3 nights at the Gheralta Lodge) visiting the remote monasteries in the Gheralta Mountains in Tigray
If you’re travelling to Ethiopia especially to witness the celebration of Timket, then we recommend you spend those three days in either Gondar or Lalibela. We organise special expert-led tour groups of no more than 12 people to both towns. If you’re travelling solo or as a couple, then your tailored experience will be designed as according to your preferences.
Timket is an experience we’d recommend for photographers and filmmakers – it’s colourful and extremely photogenic.
When to go for Timket
The celebration of Epiphany starts on 18th January each year. Arriving on the 16th will give you a quite day to visit the beautiful rock-hewn churches in Lalibela.
Our top tip for Timket
“Try to get yourself into the middle of the crowd for the beautiful morning ceremony of Timket so that you can be sprinkled with holy water. It’s the only way to share in the spirit of the festival.”
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
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