The Ethiopian Festival of Timket

By Elisabeth Griffiths

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The Ethiopian Festival of Timket

The Ethiopian Festival of Timket

“We knew very little about the Timket festival when we booked the tour, but now realise that it [is] right up there with other top cultural events around the world.” – Mr and Mrs Haley

How much do you know about Timket? If the answer is ‘very little’ or even ‘nothing’, then don’t worry – it’s the same for a great many people.


Timket Priests involved in the ceremony Timket Priests involved in the ceremony

Timket, also spelled Timkat or Timqat, is an Ethiopian festival that celebrates the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River, held on the 10th day of Terr in the Ethiopian calendar. For us, that’s the 19th January (or the 20th during a Leap Year).

There is nothing quite like Timket! The night of Timket, the Tabot – a model of the Ark of the Covenant – is reverently wrapped up in rich cloth and carried on the head of a priest in a grand procession to a nearby pool or stream. At 2am the Divine Liturgy is conducted, then the most faithful stay and keep watch over the Tabot until dawn.

When dawn comes, water is blessed and sprinkled over the participants. At this point, many celebrants even go into the water and immerse themselves completely, symbolically renewing their faith.

By noon on Timket day, a large crowd will have gathered at the site and the Tabot is borne back to church amidst a buzzing, colourful procession. The priests, dressed in many colours and carrying brightly-hued umbrellas, perform lively dances and songs. The elders, attended by middle-aged men chanting lowly, march with their weapons.

As soon as the Tabot is placed safely back in its rightful position on the altar, the attendants go home for feasting and further celebration.


Photo courtesy of MaxPixel Photo courtesy of MaxPixel

For a traveller, seeing Timket is quite simply the experience of a lifetime.

To get up close to the processions and to experience the sheer joy and vibrancy of Timket is something that you will never forget.

If you don’t believe us, here is a review from previous guests who attended Timket in Addis Ababa during our 2016 Small Group tour:

“To have been given such close-up access to the festival with our "guest passes" made it even more special and it will stay in our memories forever, especially returning before dawn and seeing all of the local people who had kept overnight vigil on the Ark of the Covenant.”

We very highly recommend witnessing Timket in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, where the celebrations are at their biggest and consequently, most spectacular.

The teeming crowds with their multi-coloured umbrellas and collective sounds will leave a lasting impression, and here at Rainbow, we secure special passes for our guests so as to ensure that you’re in prime position for the ceremonies and processions – this makes for extraordinary photo opportunities!


Photo courtesy of Gill Penney Photo courtesy of Gill Penney

To ensure superior quality experiences for our clients, we work with the best local guides – after all, a guide can make or break a trip. Other comments we’ve received about our Ethiopian guides following the 2016 and 2018 Ethiopia and Timket Small Group Tours include:

“We were fortunate to have an excellent guide (Temesgen) and a good group of people of similar ability and interest. This added greatly to our enjoyment of the holiday.” – Mr and Mrs Little (2018)

“Our tour guide was excellent and really made our trip that much more successful. He was VERY knowledgeable; he was patient and nothing was too much trouble… The local guides in the [Simien] mountains and at Lake Langano were fantastic; knowledgeable and enthusiastic.” – Mr Cole and Ms Campbell

“Henok was quite extraordinarily excellent. Incredibly knowledgeable, energetic, helpful, calm and encouraging.” – Sir and Lady Davies

“This trip was an experience of a lifetime not just because of the beauty of the country and kindness of the people, but mainly because of our exception guide, Henok. He is extremely knowledgeable, patient, kind, and thoughtful. I had some mobility issues and he ensured that I was cared for and safe. He also has a great sense of humor which was very important with our jovial group, who got along with each other from the start and laughed constantly. He handled our mixed Brit/Yank jokes very well! Our driver, Lake, was exceptional. We never had a moment of worry about our safety, even over difficult terrain.” – Ms Cowell


Timket celebrations in Addis Ababa Timket celebrations in Addis Ababa

As amazing as Timket is, a holiday of course is defined by its whole, so after the festival we’ll take you on Ethiopia’s famed and justifiably highly praised ‘Historical Route’.

Visit scenic Bahir Dar where you take a boat trip out onto deep blue Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest body of water. Wonder at Africa’s second largest waterfall, the Blue Nile Falls, and discover the incredible castles at Gondar. Delve into Simien Mountains National Park for a glimpse of the endangered Walia ibex, and explore the awe-inspiring 12th century rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.

“When we said to friends that we were going to Ethiopia several said 'why?' It is merely that they are unaware of the culture, the history and the beauty there. Our photographs, some of which have already been posted on Facebook, show why! … Let us hope that many more will travel there and see for themselves. We will certainly encourage this, since tourism is so important for the Ethiopian economy.” – Mr and Mrs Rendall (2016)

Tourism is on the rise in Ethiopia, so we encourage visiting there while it is still somewhat off-the-beaten-track. You won’t regret it.


Check out our Timket Group Tour here


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This article's header image is by Gill Penney, used with thanks

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