Ethiopians celebrate Meskel in Oakland

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Ethiopians from the Bay Area gathered at Medhani Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Church on Sunday to celebrate Meskel, a holiday that commemorates the finding of the True Cross by Saint Helena.

The celebration dates back to the 4th Century AD when Saint Helena is believed to have burnt incense and followed the smoke to find the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. Today, Ethiopians commemorate by creating and burning a Demara, a sacred bonfire made using Eucalyptus branches and decorated with yellow daisies, adey ababa. Meskel is an important holiday, the first on the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar, which starts a new year on September. 11.

For Ethiopians in the Bay Area, Meskel is a chance to bond and reminisce about the holiday season back home. “It’s a big, big holiday and it reminds me of being home, how families celebrate and eat together,” said Zemen Gebremariam who travelled from San Francisco for the celebration.

For others, the celebration is a time to keep their Ethiopian culture alive. “We always like to come celebrate and socialize because it helps us reconnect with our roots,” said Salome Habte who has been living in the Bay Area for almost 20 years.

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