Story: Sham El-Nessim – a 4,500 year-old Egyptian feast
El Nessim While millions of Egyptians mark the
national holiday of Sham El-Nessim, one of the few celebrations that bring both
Muslim and Coptic Christians together, very few realize that it is a
celebration linked directly to ancient Egypt.
El-Nessim, which translates to “smelling the breeze,” falls on the Monday that
follows the Coptic Orthodox Easter. Despite its timing, the holiday is
celebrated by Egyptians regardless of religion.
modern times, the holiday is marked with picnics to parks while meals of
different items including colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, salt-cured mullet
fish (known as fesikh) and onions.
earliest known celebration of Sham El-Nessim in ancient Egypt dates back to the
third Dynasty (2650B.C.-2575B.C.)” archaeologist Sherif el-Sabban told The
Cairo Post Sunday.
ancient Egypt, the day marked the beginning of the season of She-mu, literally
translating to “low-water,” the 4-month harvest season that falls roughly
between mid-April and mid-August, said Sabban.
this season, the crops of the grain harvest including wheat and barley were
collected. She-mu was preceded by Peret, the cultivation season and was
followed by Akhet, the inundation season, Sabban added.
“According to annals written by the Greek
historian Plutarch [46A.D.-127A.D.], the ancient Egyptians also used to offer
salted fish, lettuce, and onions to their gods and goddesses on this day,”
Sabban said, adding that the day was believed to have equal hours for day and
“Every year, the ancient Egyptians tested Sham
El-Nessim by viewing whether or not the sunlight lay in an upright angle on the
Great Pyramid,” he said.
resurrection, lettuce and malana (green chick pea sprouts) were eaten in
ancient Egypt as they were plentiful following the receding of the Nile flood,
said Sabban, adding that sardines, mullet, mackerel and anchovies were also
preserved by salting.