Awakening The Spirit At Timkat

DESTINATION: GONDAR, ETHIOPIA

For those seeking a fresh start at the beginning of a new year, few experiences can match the divine joy and sensation of peace one feels when attending the holy festival of Timkat on the African continent.

At first blush, the castle-filled city of Gondar, Ethiopia may seem like a remote location for the traveler seeking such a transformative experience, but come January, the city comes alive with throngs of worshipers descending on this exotic locale from around the world to partake in the spiritual cleansing ceremony of Timkat. Celebrated on the tenth day of Terr on the Ethiopian calendar, the annual event is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan—offering the locals and visiting pilgrims the opportunity to renew their spirit by taking a dip in the holy waters of the historic Fasilides Bath.

The festival of Timkat begins with a parade of priests in extravagant robes with vividly-colored umbrellas, carrying a symbolic Ark of the Covenant through the city—a sacred ritual followed by dancers, musicians and church officials. Excitement builds across communities as people fight to catch a glimpse of the festivities. As the priests begin to pray, the crowds quiet in reverence to the clergymen’s message. The priests bless the event, the books and the people over a loud speaker in a melodic Amharic tongue—producing a rhythmic sound of comfort and meditation that can be heard from outside the holy spaces, drawing even more people to the city to experience the spiritual awakening.

The pinnacle of the event is the blessing of the water where the once empty Fasilides Bath is filled and transformed into a baptismal font of holy water, allowing followers a chance to be rebaptized among the faithful. Many jump into the stone baptismal and some drink from it while others simply dip their hands into the soul-cleansing waters and wash themselves, all with the hope of purifying their spirit in the new year. With its promise of salvation and rebirth, Timkat offers all who come to the annual holy ceremony a rare experience to refresh and rejuvenate the soul in anticipation of the path ahead.