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  • Writer's pictureNadine Selem

Egypt's oldest celebration

Nadine, an Egyptian native, talks about Egypt's oldest celebration called Sham El-Nessim.

This year, Egyptians celebrated the feast of Sham El-Nessim on May 3rd. Sham El-Nessim is celebrated in Egypt with the advent of the spring season. It is one of the feasts of the ancient Egyptians, and Egyptians celebrate it in various ways, such as visiting parks, coloring eggs, or eating fesikh, which is a fermented, salted, and dried fish. Amazingly, the beginning of the celebration dates back about five thousand years, and the celebration has continued since then into present day.

In the past, the celebration of this holiday was known in Heliopolis as "Ōn," and the name of the celebration, "Sham El-Nessim," is due to the Pharaonic word "Shemu", which is an ancient Egyptian word that symbolizes the Season of the Harvest among the ancient Egyptians. The word "Nessim" (breeze, in English) was added to it because this season is related to the mildness of the weather and the accompanying pleasantries, such as going out to gardens and enjoying the beauty of nature.

On this day, the ancient Egyptians started the tradition of waking up early in the morning before sunrise, believing that whoever wakes up after sunrise becomes lethargic and lazy throughout the year. After that, they began to go out in groups to gardens, fields, and parks to be in front of the sun when it emerged. Then, they would spend their day celebrating from sunrise to sunset.

The ancient Egyptians had—and there still is—a special dining table for the occasion, which is an essential part of the celebration. This table consists of colored eggs, fesikh, green onions, lettuce, and chickpeas. In fact, this table was not a matter of entertainment, but rather, it had sacred roots linked to ancient Egyptian beliefs.

Onions, in ancient Egyptian belief, were believed to cure diseases and expel evil spirits, so onion bundles were hung on the entrances of homes. To this day, Egyptians in rural areas do this to the balconies of their homes.

The idea of engraving and decorating eggs is also associated with an ancient doctrine, in which the ancient Egyptians would engrave the eggs and write wishes on them, then collect the eggs in baskets made of palm fronds to hang them on balconies, windows, or trees. The belief is that if someone has not broken his or her egg, their wishes will be fulfilled.

These meaningful and deeply-rooted customs still exist to this day. In all fun and games, everyone will just eat the eggs later.


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