Families celebrating Sham El-Nassim
Cairo - Arabstoday
Arab Republic of Egypt, commonly known as Egypt, is a charming country renowned for housing a myriad of spectacular pyramids. A group of minority follows Christianity, amongst which almost 90 percent belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. As such, practicing all Christian customs and celebrating all Christian festivals is a common sight here. They celebrate a particular spring festival since 2700 B.C. named Shaam el-Nessim, which means ‘renewal of life’. Some of the rituals associated with it include coloring of eggs that are also linked with Easter festivities. During the Coptic era, Shamo became Sham which literally means ‘sniffing’ or ‘smelling’; thus, Sham El-Nessim (sniffing the breezes) evolved as the modern version of this 4500 year old tradition. It was a religious festival celebrated on the Vernal Equinox by ancient Egyptians. But after Christianization, it became associated with the Christian spring festival, Easter. Hence, Easter is observed by every one in Egypt irrespective of the religion practiced.
Easter is associated with Sham El-Nessim in Egypt and, to some extent; the customs and rituals are quite similar. Sham El-Nessim comes immediately after Easter Sunday, that is on the Monday after Easter, which is referred to as Easter Monday in the western countries. The ancient Egyptians consumed special food on this day which included Lettuce and Malana, green pea shoots (symbolize the resurgence of life), and salted fish (fisikh in Arabic). Till date, the same food is religiously consumed on Sham El-Nessim. However, every Egyptian family has a different recipe to prepare these meals that are transferred down from one generation to another. Although a minor festival, Easter is a national holiday in Egypt. In the Egyptian culture, lamb is linked with Easter celebrations as the people assume Jesus to be the “Lamb of God” who sacrificed his life for humans. During the entire Easter week, Egyptian Christians visit the church everyday and perform Easter Saturday services. They color and decorate eggs in bright colors and gift them to each other. Families go for vacation trips to the countryside, visit parks and zoos, and organize picnics just to “take in the new air” which is the true reason behind celebrating Easter or Sham El-Nassim.