The Ithiopian Calendar is seven years behind the Gregorian Calendar now used in the west. Ethiopia, having never been colonised, still uses the Julian Calendar. The year is divided into 12 months of 30 days each, and a 13th month of five days (six days every leap year).
Timkat (Timqat) or Epiphany is celebrated on Tir 11th according to the Ithiopian (Ethiopian) calendar or 19th January (western calendar) which is 12 days after OrthodoxChristmas (this date can change on Leap Years). It is the greatest of the Christian Festivals and celebrates the baptism of Iyesu the Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. The festival begins the day before Timqat which is called Ketera and lasts for three days. Everyone dresses in their best clothes, new if possible, the white robes of the people contrasting with the bright colours of the priests clothes and the velvet sequined umbrellas. Each Ethiopian church contains a Tabot which symbolises the Ark of the Covenant and it is the Tabot which is consecrated rather than the Church, without the Tabot the church is just an empty shell. The true Ark is kept in the Church of St Mary of Zion at Aksum having been brought to Ethiopia by Menelik I, the son of King Soloman and Queen Makeda. He was the first Ithiopian King of the Solomonic dynasty a direct ancestor of I&I God and King Haile Selassie I.
On Ketera (the eve of Timkat) the Tabots, covered in ornamental cloths to prevent the gaze of the people, are taken by the priests with much ceremony to a tent near a pool or stream. In Addis Ababa, the eleven largest churches, bring their tabots to a field, locally known as Jan Meda. In Lalibela they meet at the River Jordan. Here the congregation spend the night in prayer, Mass is said around 2 am, after which there is a feast of injera and barley beer. Before dawn people gather at the pool or stream and at 5am the priests bless the water and begin sprinkling the crowd with it. Many people leap into the consecrated water fully clothed.
Afterwards the Tabots are returned to the churches, accompanied by the dancing parishoners, the sound of drums, bells, trumpets and the sistrum (a traditional instrument) and surrounded by the smell of burning incense. The celebrations continue throughout the night. The next day is devoted to the Archangel St. Michael, who is Ethiopia’s favourite Saint. The miracle at the Marriage in Cana where Iyesu the Christ turned water into wine is also remembered. The congregation surround the Church singing and dancing and the younger people continue to celebrate into the night.