The act of Demera for Meskel. Picture: Addis Standard

The nation of Ethiopia has a lot to look forward to in their religious year, and it's not because Christmas is less than five months away - it's because their Orthodox Christian calendar has begun with the festival of Meskel.

Meskel (or spelt as Mesqel) is the religious festival known to Ethiopians using the tradition of Demera - which is the tradition of throwing a bonfire with a feast and dancing.

Meskel commemorates the finding of the True Cross in the fourth century when Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the True Cross on which Christ was crucified.

The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on September 17 Ethiopian calendar (September 27 Gregorian calendar), 6 months after the discovery of the True Cross.

The celebration of Meskel signifies the presence of the True Cross at the mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery and also symbolises the events carried out by Empress Helena. 

When celebrated, thousands of Christians flock to Ethiopia's capital city of Addis Ababa, joined by hundreds of priests and deacons from churches around the city, who bring drums and ornate crosses used in religious ceremonies.

Participants including priests and students are dressed in long white religious robes and head gears amid singing of spiritual songs whiles they circle the bonfire which is fuelled by firewood decorated with daisies prior to the celebration.

Religious participants walking in the streets of Addis Ababa. Picture: Amensisa Negera

The procession is either held on the evening before the festival or on the day itself. Little processions are also held at homes and rain is expected at the end of the event to put out the fire.

If the rain falls, the year is expected to be prosperous.

Ashes from the remains of the fire are collected the next day and used to mark the foreheads of faithful with the sign of the cross.

A feast is held afterwards. It is also held in Eritrea’s capital Asmara and other parts of the country.