Ketera is one of the most beautiful holidays, says 24-year-old Selam Tilahun, who came out to celebrate in her all-white Habesha attire.
She has spent the better part of her life attending the Ketera celebrations, and the sight of the priests carrying the Tabot, a representation of the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments, to the designated site is permanently imprinted on her mind, along with the sound of the religious songs they sing.
“The scents, the noises, the unity, and the customs make Timket and Ketera my favorite holidays,” Selam said. She noted how impressed she is every year by the large turnout of individuals who share the same enthusiasm for the celebration. “The experience has given me a sense of belonging to something greater.”
On January 19, Orthodox Christians around the world commemorate Christ’s baptism as they observe Timket (Epiphany). Ketera is the eve of Timket celebrations. The streets are first decked out in green, yellow, and red banners as part of the festive preparations.
A crimson carpet is spread out for the priests carrying the Tabot to walk upon as they lead the throng in singing and chanting together, while temporary churches, floats, and stages are set up in anticipation of the celebration.
As part of the event, on the eve of Timket, priests from all churches in the country carry the Tabot to a predetermined place in memory of Jesus Christ’s trek to the Jordan River for his baptism. As they make their way to their destinations, tens of thousands of people gather around them to share in the joy of the occasion with prayers, spiritual music, and shouts.
Many individuals dream of one day witnessing a sea of thousands of people in white singing in harmony and celebrating while swarms of clergy and Sunday school children lead the Tabot in spiritual melodies. Travelers from all over the world flock to Ethiopia to take part in the festivities.
In addition to its religious significance, the Ketera festival is well-liked by many because of the myriad customs that surround it. Among the many customs observed by festivalgoers in Ketera is the practice of a man throwing a citrus fruit at a woman he finds attractive.
It’s true that many young people go out during the festivities in the hope of finding a future romantic partner. This custom has been carried on for many years, and it has helped to foster strong bonds between family members.
Solomon Abera, a 29-year-old participant in this year’s festivities, recalled, “I remember my uncle telling me a story about how his friend met his wife at Ketera after he threw a lemon at her and she grabbed it.”
Every time he goes out for a celebration, he says, a small part of him wonders if this is the time he’ll finally meet the woman who will become his wife.
Young women always put on their best attire for the Ketera festivities, as this is a longstanding custom. Some people even have unique Habesha garments made specifically for the Timket and Ketera festivals.
After the Tabot send-off and at areas where the Tabot rests, such as Jan Meda, thousands of people get together to pray, sing, dance, and enjoy the customs and cultures.
Harmonica and Masinqo players blaring out tunes to which the sounds of chants, prayers, celebrations, joy, and laughing among a group of strangers who gather together on this occasion, are noises that will stay with anybody who experiences them.
Sosina Kebede, another celebrant, gushed, “I love Ketera. Despite my lack of religious fervor, I find myself deeply moved by the processions’ uplifting soundtrack, elaborate floats, and constant serenades of joyful song. The growing number of individuals that join at each stage is inspiring to me as well, until eventually there is a river of them all dressed in white and singing hymns of praise.”
It’s wonderful to see so many people come together to celebrate, another woman who joined the thousands in attendance said. It’s the one holiday that everyone goes out together to have fun, she said, unlike other holidays where people tend to stick closer to home and spend time with immediate family. celebrate within their own houses or with close relatives.