When is Sham El Nessim?
When is Sham El-Nessim?
Sham El-Nessim is a national holiday in Egypt. It is celebrated on the same day as Coptic Orthodox Easter Monday.
The largest Christian denomination in Egypt is the Coptic Orthodox Church, though this festival is not considered a particularly religious holiday.
History of Sham El-Nessim
Sham El-Nessim is celebrated by Egyptians of all religions as it is based on a spring festival that predates both Christianity and Islam.
Sham El-Nessim can be dated back to ancient Egypt to at least 2700 BCE (the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom) and is a festival that celebrates the arrival of Spring. The changing of the seasons and in particular the effect on the Nile would have been important events in the life of all Egyptians, and the close and start of prosperous agricultural seasons would have been a key celebration.
Sham El-Nessim, translates from Arabic as 'smelling the breeze', though this is a nice sound-alike coincidence as the name of the festival comes from the Egyptian name for the harvest season - 'Shamo' meaning renewal of life.
In many parts of the world, the adoption of farming and agriculture meant that knowing when spring had arrived with the Vernal Equinox, became important knowledge. Thousands of years ago, the equinox was closely aligned with the sun rising in the Zodiacal sign of Aries. Over the centuries, the slow wobble of the earth on it's axis (procession) has meant that change in the sun has moved behind that of the equinox, but stills forms the date for the new year and harvest festivals in many parts of Asia. Some countries (such as those in central Asia) stayed with the vernal equinox (Novruz), some followed the sun (Songkran) and others (Easter) switched to accommodate Christianity like Sham El-Nessim.
Ancient Egyptians believed that Sham El Nessim marks the beginning of world creation; when “Ra” The Sun God sails with his boat in the skies and anchors on the top of the Great Pyramid, a journey that symbolizes life and death.
When Egypt became a mainly Christian country under the rule of the Roman Empire, rather than replace existing festivals, Shamo was simply integrated into the Christian Easter celebrations.
When Egypt then became a predominately Arab country, the holiday gained the name 'Sham El-Nessim', which means 'smelling the breeze'. It stayed on its Easter date as that is based on a Lunar cycle like most Muslim festivals.
Due to the pleasant weather at this time of year, the holiday is often celebrated by families with a trip to the park.
The dish most closely associated with Sham El-Nessim is Feseekh, salted fish (usually grey mullet, but can also be mackerel or sardines) eaten with spring onions. It's worth mentioning that numerous cases of food poisoning from eating Feseekh are reported each year, so always buy fiseekh from an established fasakhany (seafood restaurant) and never buy it from a street seller.
Like many other Spring festivals, eggs (as symbols of rebirth) are a key part of Sham El-Nessim celebrations. Apart from the painting and decorating of eggs, one custom is the writing of wishes on eggs and then hanging them in baskets from trees and houses, in the hope the gods would answer the wishes.