Sham el-Nessim in Egypt Date in the current year: May 6, 2024

Sham el-Nessim in Egypt Sham el-Nessim (also spelled Sham Ennesim or Sham en-Nessim) is an Egyptian public holiday that marks the beginning of spring. It always coincides with Easter Monday in the Julian calendar, following the custom of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The holiday is believed to have originated in Ancient Egypt as early as 4,500 years ago. Back in the day, most cultures celebrated the beginning of spring some time around the vernal equinox, and Egypt was not an exception. The date of the spring equinox was calculated by observing the direction of the sunlight at dawn over the pyramids.

The vernal equinox and the effect of the change of seasons on the Nile were important events because they affected the beginning of the agricultural season. On the first day of the harvest season (Shemu), the ancient Egyptians offered onions, lettuce, and salted fish to their deities, celebrating the arrival of spring and asking for a plentiful harvest.

Following the establishment of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the christianization of Egypt, the pagan spring festival became associated with Easter that fell during the same period. By the time Muslims conquered Egypt, the festival had morphed into its current form and settled on Easter Monday.

Even when Egypt was conquered by Arabs and most Egyptians converted to Islam, they continued to celebrate Shemu. However, the name of the festival was replaced by an Arabic phono-semantic match Sham el-Nessim, which means “smelling the Zephyrus” (west wind associated with spring and summer breezes).

Despite its Christian-linked date, Sham el-Nessim is not considered a religious festival and is celebrated by Egyptians of all religions throughout the country. Due to the pleasant weather at this time of year, people typically spend the day outdoors, picnicking and enjoying the spring breeze with their families. Traditional food eaten on the occasion of Sham el-Nessim includes fesikh (a traditional dish made with fermented, salted and dried gray mullet), green onions, lettuce, and lupini beans (tirmis).

Fesikh (also spelled fiseekh) is probably the most popular food associated with Sham el-Nessim. In many cultures, fish a symbol of fertility and welfare. In Ancient Egypt, fish were abundant when the water receded from the Nile flood, leaving them trapped and easily caught. Fesikh is made from gray mullets that have served as an important source of food in Egypt for centuries. To prepare fesikh, the fish is dried in the sun and then preserved in salt. The process is quite elaborate, and the incorrect preparation of fesikh can lead to food poisoning.

Colored and decorated eggs eaten during the holiday are now mainly associated with Easter, but they have been a symbol of new life and rebirth since ancient times. Eggs are a key part of Sham el-Nessim celebrations for people of all denominations. Apart from painting and decorating eggs, people write their wishes on eggs, and then hang them in baskets from houses and trees, hoping that their wishes would come true.

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Sham el-Nessim, spring festivals, holidays in Egypt, public holiday, Easter Monday