Maskal (Masqual, Meskel)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: September 27
Where Celebrated: Ethiopia
Symbols and Customs: Cross, Demara, Maskal Flowers
Related Holidays: Exaltation of the Cross


Christianity was established in Ethiopia in the fourth century, when a Christian from Syria named Frumentius traveled there and influenced the local ruler. At the time, Christianity in Syria was under the domain of the Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt. Thus, so was the new church in Ethiopia until 1959, when the Ethiopian Orthodox Church separated from the Coptic Church of Egypt. Maskal

Maskal is primarily a Christian festival observed in Ethiopia to commemorate the finding of the True Cross (i.e., the cross on which Christ was crucified). According to legend, the CROSS was found by Queen (later Saint) Helena-mother of the Roman emperor, Constantine-while she was on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the fourth century. She was very interested in the Mount of Calvary, where Jesus Christ had been crucified, and she organized an excavation there. Although all three crosses that had originally stood on Calvary were unearthed, St. Helena was able to determine which one was the True Cross by asking a man who was very ill to touch each of them. When he touched the True Cross, he was miraculously cured (see EXALTATION OF THE CROSS).

A relic or fragment of the True Cross was brought to Ethiopia during the Middle Ages as a reward to the Christian kings who had protected Coptic minorities from invaders. They received the relic a week before Maskal, which at that time was primarily a festival celebrating the arrival of spring. Since that time, the holiday has combined both Christian and pagan traditions.

Because Maskal comes at the end of the rainy season in Ethiopia, the fields are usually blooming with small yellow daisies known as MASKAL FLOWERS . The flowers are cut and fastened to special poles (see DEMARA ) that each family brings to a central clearing. The poles are used to build a bonfire, around which young men dance, shouting war chants. On the following day, people draw a cross on their foreheads with the charcoal from the fire.



The cross is one of the oldest and most universal of all symbols. It stands for Christ, who was sacrificed on a cross, as well as for the Christian religion and the idea of redemption or salvation through Christianity.

Maskal celebrates the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena, who is often depicted carrying a cross, along with a hammer and nails. Sometimes she is shown with the cross borne by angels who are appearing to her in a vision.


On the eve of Maskal, every town and village erects its own demara, which is a tall, conical arrangement of wooden poles decorated with maskal flowers and with a cross on top. The demara is blessed with incense, after which a procession of villagers or townspeople, led by the priests and local clergy, circle it three times in honor of the Trinity. When nightfall comes, the demara is set aflame to symbolize the burning incense that guided St. Helena to the exact location of the True Cross in Jerusalem.

Maskal Flowers

The yellow daisies known as maskal flowers are usually in full bloom at the time of year when this festival is observed. They are symbolic of the arrival of spring, since Maskal used to be a pagan festival celebrating the end of the rainy season- known as "winter" even though Ethiopia lies north of the equator.


Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Shemanski, Frances. A Guide to World Fairs and Festivals. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.


Ethiopian Embassy of the United Kingdom Gulilat%20-%201.htm


September 27
Maskal ia a Christian festival in Ethiopia to commemorate the finding of the True Cross, the cross on which Christ was crucified. ( Maskal means "cross.") The celebration comes at the end of the rainy season in the Ethiopian spring, when fields are blooming with yellow flowers known as the maskal flowers. In communities throughout the nation, a tall pole called a demara is set up and topped with a cross. Families place smaller demaras against the big one, and in the evening they are made into a huge bonfire. Religious ceremonies are performed around the bonfire, with songs and dancing. The ashes of the burned-out fire are considered holy, so the people place the powder of the ashes on their foreheads.
See also Exaltation of the Cross
Ethiopian Embassy
3506 International Dr. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-364-1200; fax: 202-587-0195
Ethiopian Tourism Commission
P.O. Box 2183
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
251-1-517-470; fax: 251-1-517-533
AnnivHol-2000, p. 161
BkHolWrld-1986, Sep 27
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 569
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 75
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