Hundreds of people dressed in white robes line the streets of Aksum, chanting, dancing and clapping their hands for Ethiopian Timkat. The Timkat ‘epiphany’ festival celebrates the baptism of Christ. As the majority of Ethiopia’s population belongs to the Orthodox church, Timkat is deeply important for them. I was lucky enough to backpack throughout Ethiopia during the festival!
Timkat (or Timket) is officially a three-day event, which begins from January 18th. It starts with the procession of ‘tabots’ (holy replicas of the Ark of the Covenant) to a body of water in the afternoon of the first day. In Aksum, this body of water is the Bath of Queen Sheeba. The festivities around the Bath of Queen Sheeba go on through the night with singing, praying and burning candles and incense.
The next morning, the crowds gather again for colorful ceremonies and more prayers. After this, the tabots are paraded back to the church and the church leader blesses the pool of water. When the priests are done, it is finally time for the annual baptism. This is point where everyone gets excited: people jump into the holy water or try to get a bit of water on their forehead from the big water sprays. I felt incredibly honored and lucky to be part of this unique event, which is so important for the Ethiopian Orthodox people.
Find tips for your visit to the Ethiopian Timkat festival at the end of this article.
Ethiopian Timkat in 20 photographs
Tips for your visit to the Ethiopian Timkat festival
- While most people head to Gondar for Timkat, I preferred to celebrate Timkat festival in Aksum. There were very few tourists (maybe two tour groups) and the celebrations were extensive and impressive. From what I heard, Gondar is extremely crowded during Timkat. People also joked that all pickpockets from Addis head to Gondar during Timkat.
- Consider to book your accommodation in advance during Ethiopian Timkat. Especially Gondar tends to be fully booked.
- During the festival season, public transportation is often fully booked. Keep this in mind and try to book your bus ticket at least the night before.
- Ask your guesthouse where and when to be for the festival. The festivities on January 19th start quite early in the morning.
- Please be mindful and respectful during the celebrations. It’s an important religious ceremony for the Ethiopian people and we’re fortunate that we are welcome. Be invisible. Don’t disturb it with your photography, filming or drone.
- In Aksum I stayed in the Kaleb hotel, which has a beautiful garden courtyard and a popular pizza restaurant. It has potential to be a great hostel for independent travelers, but during my visit I was the only backpacker.
- Aksum is probably my favorite city in Ethiopia. It’s a cool place to hang out for a couple of days.T
To give you an idea of the atmosphere :)
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Would you love to visit this festival? Have you been to similar religious celebrations?
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I entered Ethiopia from Sudan. Read more about my Sudan travels here.