In Eritrea, statutory holidays include religious, national and cultural events. Festivals vary regionally, but usually include a feast, followed by singing and dancing.
Eritrea has 16 public holidays, three of which honour the country's nationhood and independence, as well as those who died in the freedom war. National holidays are marked with speeches, public demonstrations, seminars and cultural shows.
Christian religious holidays are celebrated with prayers, followed by feasting and dancing. On Timket (Baptism) eve, people flock outdoors in colourful processions. On the day itself each church's tabernacle is paraded through the streets. People follow the priest to a river, where the baptism of Jesus is re-enacted.
Meskel, also called Mashkela, is a Christian festival that marks the finding of the true cross, although its roots seem to be in a harvest ritual. Villagers carry lit torches to a clearing outside the village, where they light a huge bonfire, dance until the last ember burns out and then gather the new harvest. Fresh drink is prepared from the new grain and offered to the ancestors. Only after these rituals have been completed do the people eat some of the harvest themselves.
The three important Muslim holidays are Eid-al-Fitr, the feast that marks the end of Ramadan; Eid-al-adha, the pilgrimage to Mecca; and Mawlid al-nabi, which is the prophet Mohammed's birthday. These occasions are marked with prayers and family gatherings. On Eid-al-Fitr, people usually wear new clothes and visit friends. The most famous local pilgrimage for Muslims is to the Eritrean town of Keren; people who cannot make the Haj to Mecca may undertake this journey.
Because Muslim holidays are based on the lunar calendar, their dates vary annually. The dates for Orthodox Easter and Good Friday also vary annually.