28th December (Tahsas 19 in the Ethiopian calendar) is one of the two big annual St. Gabriel festivals (the other one comes on 26th July), and is the culmination of one of the biggest pilgrimages in Ethiopia.
Kulubi is a small place some 50km from Dire Dawa, but today tens of thousands of pilgrims will have converged on the St Gabriel’s church there, many walking for days to get there.
Kulubi is known for its large church, dedicated to St. Gabriel, which is the site of massive twice-yearly pilgrimages (on 26 July and 28 December) attended by tens of thousands of Orthodox pilgrims. The present church was erected in 1962 by Emperor Haile Selassie, replacing one his father Ras Makonnen had erected to celebrate the Ethiopian victory in the Battle of Adwa.
Nega Mezlekia, in his Notes from the Hyena’s Belly, describes the discussion inhabitants held over dedicating a church to St. Gabriel when “there were already two churches within twenty kilometers dedicated to the same saint. … and that prayers and pleas directed to one saint, at the same hour and from two separate locations, had ended in disaster, for the requests of the two parishes were too often mutually exclusive.”
But all across Ethiopia, this date is a huge celebration at every Gabriel church. Whether in Addis Ababa, in Lalibela, or at Hawassa where a church has a Gabriel Tabot, there will be colorful celebrations.