Today Ethiopia is celebrating Christmas. Following the Julian calendar, this East African, Orthodox Christian nation celebrates Christmas on the 7th January each year.

In Lalibela, one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia, tens of thousands of pilgrims gather for mass in the town’s 12 rock-hewn churches. All through the night there’s chanting, singing, swaying and praying – an evocative sight if you’re lucky enough to witness it.

Photographer Karoki Lewis travelled to Lalibela for Christmas, and here he shares his best pictures of the spectacular event.

Pilgrims gather on Christmas eve for the all-night Christmas celebrations at the Bet Maryam (Church of the Virgin Mary), Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims gather around for Christmas mass in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims visit Bet Giyorgis, the Church of St George

Rock-hewn church of Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa – ethiopian Christmas

Young pilgrims wearing Ethiopian national dress

Young women pilgrims, Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims celebrate the end of their 43 day fast, drinking the local honey based liquor tej

Pilgrims at Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims arrive from all over Ethiopia (some having walked for 4-5 weeks)

©KL_MG_5313

Priest and deacons line up for King David’s dance, the final ritual at the Bet Maryam

Pilgrims at Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Priest and deacons get ready to dance in Bet Maryam

Christmas Celebrations, Ethiopia, Africa

Pilgrims light candles to the new born Jesus

Pilgrims at Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa

A pilgrim waits for Christmas day in Lalibela

©KL_MG_5790

Priests and deacons wearing white Shemas (shawls) and cloaks perform ritual dances

Pilgrims gather around for Christmas mass in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims gather on Christmas eve

Pilgrims gather around for Christmas mass in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims carry candles during celebrations

candles

Pilgrim reading bible in the courtyard of Bet Maryam

Bible, Ethiopia, Lalibela, Christmas

Priests and Deacons in the courtyard of Bet Maryam

Priests and Deacons, churches Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims camp out near the churches of Lalibela

Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa – Karoki Lewis

These tukuls become temporary homes for the pilgrims

Tukuls in Lalibela, Ethiopia, by Karoki Lewis

Priest holds a 12th century bronze cross inside Bet Danaghel

Ethiopian priest, Lalibela, churches, Africa by Karoki Lewis

Young priests sing and chant

Priests and Deacons, churches Lalibela, Ethiopia – by Karoki Lewis

Bet Maryam (Church of the Virgin Mary)

Bet Maryam (Church of the Virgin Mary), Lalibela, Ethiopia

Priest with wooden cross and 500-year-old canvas painting in Bet Golgotha

Ethiopian priests in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims at the Bet Gabriel

Pilgrims at the Bet Gabriel-Rufael, Lalibela, Ethiopia – Karoki Lewis

All images © Karoki Lewis 2016. Explore more of Ethiopia with the Rough Guide to Ethiopia. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.