Meskel Celebration: A Time of Unity and Renewal for the Gurage Community in Ethiopia


The Meskel celebration holds a special place in the hearts of the Gurage community in Ethiopia. This traditional festival signifies unity, forgiveness, and renewal among family and community members. It involves a series of rituals that bring people together, providing an opportunity to reconcile differences and strengthen bonds. Now, let’s explore the unique and captivating practices that shape the Meskel celebration specifically within the Gurage community.

Forgiveness and Reunion:

One of the central themes of the Meskel celebration for the Gurage community is the reunion of scattered families. It serves as an occasion for individuals who may have been separated due to various reasons, such as work or personal conflicts, to come together and seek forgiveness. During Meskel, families set aside their differences and open their hearts to reconcile, fostering a sense of unity and harmony within the community.

Renewal and Cleansing:

In preparation for Meskel, no aspect of daily life is left untouched. Gurage households undergo a thorough cleaning and renewal process. Every corner is swept, every item is washed, and houses are adorned with fresh decorations to welcome the festivities. This collective cleaning effort signifies a fresh start and a commitment to creating a beautiful and inviting atmosphere for the celebrations.

Shagna Ken and Areza Ceremony:

On Meskerem 15, often referred to as Shagna Ken, an important ceremony takes place among the Gurage community. A bull is slaughtered, and as the community gathers to witness the event, coffee is shared among everyone. Following the slaughtering, a ceremony called Areza ensues. Raw red meat, known as shinfila, is meticulously cleaned and chopped, then mixed with various spices and herbs. This mixture is shared and consumed by the participants, symbolizing the unity and communal spirit.

Ginzir or Bula Genfo:

Ginzir, which falls on the next day, holds a special place in the culinary delights of the Meskel celebration. It involves the consumption of a unique food called Bula Genfo. Bula is a processed starch or dough made from enset, a native plant in Ethiopia. This dish serves as an appetizer and helps create space in the stomach for the upcoming feasts and festivities.

Demera: The Bonfire Lighting Ceremony:

Meskerem 16 is marked by the Demera ceremony, which is the lighting of a grand bonfire. This ritual represents the efforts made by St. Helena to locate the Holy Cross, an event central to the Christian faith. 

Shagna Feast and Traditional Dances:

On Meskerem 17, families come together at the house of the elder family member to share a grand feast known as Shagna. Each household contributes a dish, which is boiled and prepared until ready for consumption. People gather around the feast, sitting together with joy and anticipation. Traditional Gurage dances are performed, adding to the vibrant and festive atmosphere, creating an unforgettable experience for all.


The Meskel celebration holds immense significance for the Gurage community in Ethiopia, providing a symbolic platform for forgiveness, unity, and renewal. This cherished festival brings families together, strengthens bonds, and fosters a sense of community spirit. As the Demera bonfire lights up the night sky and traditional dances fill the air, the Gurage people embrace their cultural heritage, celebrating the rich traditions that have been passed down through generations. Meskel is a time of joy, togetherness, and reflection, symbolizing the importance of unity and forgiveness for a prosperous and harmonious life within the Gurage community.


Bethlehem Tekle, Project Manager at Ethiostar Translation and Localization

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