Celebrating the Baptism of Christ, every January 19th (January 20 during leap year), Timkat is the greatest colorful festival of Orthodox Christians in Eritrea. It celebrates the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. Timkat is a three-day affair and all the ceremonies are conducted with great pomp. The eve of Timket is called Ketera. This is when the Tabots of each church are carried out in procession to a river or pool of water where the next day’s celebration will take place. A special tent is set up where each Tabot rests as members of the church choirs chant hymns. This is accompanied by a special dance by the priests with their prayer sticks and sistera, the beating of drums, ringing of bells, and blowing of trumpets.
The Tabot symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets of the Law, which Moses received on Mount Sinai. It is the Tabot rather than the church building, which is consecrated, and it is accorded extreme reverence. When the Tabot is carried out, it is wrapped in brocade or velvet “like the mantle of Christ” and carried on the head of a priest with colorful ceremonial umbrellas shading it. The priests pray through out the cold night and mass is performed about 2:00 am the next day. Near dawn the people go to the water and attend the prayers. After the prayer, a senior priest uses a golden processional cross to bless the water and extinguishes a burning consecrated candle in the water. Then he sprinkles the water on the assembled congregation in commemoration of Christ’s baptism. Many of the more fervent leap fully dressed into the water to renew their vows.
After the baptism, the Tabots of each church, start their way back to their respective churches. The elders march solemnly, accompanied by singing, leaping priests and young men, the beating of staffs and prayer sticks recalling the ancient rites of the Old Testament (11 Sam.Chap.6)