Timket, or Timkat, is Ethiopian language for Epiphany. Although the holiday commemorating Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan is observed by Christians all over the world, Timket is of special significance in Ethiopia. It is the most important and colourful event of the year.
The festival starts at Timket Eve, eleven days after the orthodox Christmas. According to the Ethiopian epic Kebra Negast, the Ark of the Covenant was abducted from Jerusalem to Ethiopia during the first millennium BC. Since then, it has become the most sacred element of the Ethiopian orthodox church. Early afternoon in the Timket Eve, the replicas of the Ark, covered by silks, are carried solemnly by priests from each church to the nearby body of water. Accompanying the procession are tens of thousands of church members andbelievers, chanting, dancing, drum-beating, horn-blowing, prayer-stick-waving and sistra (a simple musical instrument)- rattling. All in all, it resembles the scene described in the Old Testament.
As evening falls, the priests and the pious believers participate in overnight vigil around the Arks until dawn. Then huge crowds gather around the water. After the chief priest blesses the water, the celebration reaches its climax. Many jump into the water, the rest are eager to get a splash. After the religious vows are renewed, some of the Arks are paraded back with the same celebrating fashion.
The festival does not end until the third day, dedicated to the Archangel Mikael. With parade no less magnificent than the previous two days, the rest of the Arks are carried back to their respective churches.
Timket in the town of Gondar is undoubtedly the most interesting. The bath pool in the historical palace built by the Emperor Fasiladas during the 17th century stages a dramatic backdrop of the event, while the garden surrounding the pool provides believers a perfect ground for prayers and overnight vigil.