The Epiphany Festival of Timkat

Festival Essentials

Where: Lalibela, North Ethiopia, East Africa 
January around Epiphany
What Happens: 
Partying and parading the Arc of the Covenant to celebrate the gifts of the 3 Kings of the Christian Bible


Watch the Spectacular Timkat Festival in Lalibela

Where’s the party?

Timkat is celebrated all over Ethiopia, but nowhere is it quite as spectacular as in Lalibela, an isolated mountain town in the arid north of the country. Lalibela is famous for its architectural curiosities. Over a thousand years ago 11 churches were carved out of solid rock, and many Ethiopians believe they were built by angels.

The festivities begin in the 3rd week of January, the day before Epiphany which, according to the Julian calendar, falls on 19th January. January 20th is the feast of St Michael the Archangel.

What happens at Timkat?

Timkat is the most important festival in the Ethiopian calendar. Crowds of revelers, all dressed in white, dance and sing in the streets to the beating of drums. Priests, decked out in jewel encrusted velvet and satin robes, carry a replica of Arc of the Covenant known as a Talbot in a grand procession through the streets.

The procession arrives at a water source and events culminate at 2am, when the priests perform mass and bless the water. A communal baptism follows, with the most fervent Christians throwing themselves fully clothed into the water.

On 20th January a dancing, singing throng surrounds the church, celebrating the big day of Ethiopia’s favourite Saint.

What’s the history of the festival?

Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas, when the three kings were said to have bestowed their gifts upon the baby Jesus. This day falls on 6th January in the western calendar.

Christianity came to Ethiopia long before it spread to Europe. Missionaries came here within 40 years of the birth of Jesus.


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