The Egyptian calendar is the oldest still in use; even today, farmers follow this ancient calendar to calculate the rhythm of their crops.
Egyptology and folklore expert Essam Stati explains that the ancient Egyptians divided the year into three four-month seasons basing upon the annual Nile flood whose waters inundate the land from 19 June till 19 September, and the consequent agricultural cycle. The flooding season was (Akhet), the planting or growing season (Peret) ran from October to January, and the summer harvesting season (Shemu). The month was divided into three sections, each 10 days long, and the day was divided into 24 hours.
Cycle of life
Every season began when a specific star Sothis (Sirius) appeared in different places in the sky,the first time at night when it can be seen in the centre of the sky, indicating the beginning of the flood when the First Drop Day was celebrated, and the second time at sunrise to mark the New Year.
The flood season lasted from July to October. On 11 September (Tut) the flood settled and the land was prepared to receive the grain season (Peret). Then came the harvest season (Shemu), heralded by the harvest star, (Shemu Nshm), which was then Arabicised to Sham al-Nessim (the day on which Egyptians still celebrate the beginning of summer).
The life of the ancient Egyptians was closely related to agriculture and the River Nile. When Christianity entered Egypt, the Egyptian calendar remained as it was but its name and numbering of the years changed to the Martyrs’ Calendar which began in AD 284, the year the Roman Emperor Diocletian ascended the throne. Diocletian’s rule marked the martyrdom of thousands of Egypt’s Christians who died rather than renounce their faith.
The historian James Henry Breasted, who admired the ancient Egyptians’ ability to put together the calendar, explained in his book Egypt’s Ancient History that the calendar used by the Egyptians so long ago is exactly the same used today. It was carried by Julius Caesar to Rome and was used as the most precise calendar. This makes it a calendar that has been in use for over 6,000 successive years.
The sun wakes Hathor
Egyptologist Christiane Laroche Noblecourt wrote about the celebrations of the Egyptian New Year as shown on the murals in the temples. She said that the celebration held at the Egyptian New Year was solemn and reverent. It began on the evening of the first day in the month of Tut (the first month), with a statue of Hathor normally kept in the holy of holies appearing in a grand procession led by priests towards the temple. They then placed the statue in a small glass naos, and eight priests carried it at the head of the procession. The procession made several stops in the temple to place crowns on Hathor’s head, symbols of her various powers. The priest leading the procession poured water from the new flood in front of him; he
was followed by another person representing the king, who burned incense while walking behind but not facing the naos. After that came a procession of the persons holding statues and banners. As soon as the procession came to the roof of the temple it headed for a kiosk where the naos was placed until sunrise. When the sun rays fell on the naos, Hathor was revived and music was played accompanied by the chanting of the priests. This celebration was unique, one of the world’s best kept secrets. It can all be seen on the walls of Dandara Temple, together with inscriptions that explain the rituals.
This was how the New Year was celebrated in ancient Egypt, but today, in the year 6254, the ritual has disappeared. The descendants of the ancient Egyptians, who impressed the whole world by creating the Egyptian calendar, no longer mark the event. Only the Coptic Church honours the date: the New Year of the Martyrs.
The Egyptian Nationality Movement (ENM), a non-official organisation, celebrates the Egyptian New Year every year to revive the Egyptian identity.
This year, the celebration was held in 11 September on a Nile cruise where Watani met Talaat Radwan, an ENM member.
“The celebration is important in that it defends our Egyptian heritage, since the Egyptian calendar is the oldest in the world,” Mr Radwan said. “Early human beings easily defined day and night, since they were related to sunset and sunrise. With some more effort they were able to define the month by observing the moon, but they stopped at that. The lunar month was for thousands of years the only measure for time in ancient communities. However, the unique Egyptian geographic nature led the ancient Egyptians to discover another, bigger measure for time referred to as the ‘flood year’. The flood measure in its first form was approximate because of the non-accuracy and non-stability of the flood—including years of drought. But using the natural phenomenon of the flood and allocating a team to observe it were the first two steps to create the following important step, which was the solar then the stellar year as a developed form of the flood year. Accordingly, the Egyptian calendar is the oldest in the world. It started in 4242 BC, which means that 2012 in the Gregorian calendar is 6254.”
This year’s celebration
Was the Egyptian calendar the origin of all others? Many intriguing facts point to that, not least among which is that the length of the base of the Great Pyramid of Khufu in inches, divided by 25 inches (equal to the ancient Egyptians module), is 365.25, the exact same number of days in the year.
Mr Radwan says: “The ENM calls on everyone, especially educational and media organisations, to focus on the Egyptian heritage. The educational organisations should include in its curricula Egyptian heritage subjects in a simplified form to suit all ages.”
Another ENM member, Sami Harak, who organised the 2012 event, said that since the mid-1990s there had been a move towards reviving Egypt’s national spirit by marking ancient Egyptian annual events. “This year on 10 September we celebrated the Egyptian New Year with a rally in front of the Egyptian Museum where we held a banner proclaiming the number of the new year: 6254. On the following day there was a party on a Nile cruise boat, and on 13 September another event was held in which a concert was presented by children from the small shanty district of Ezbet al-Hagana. We trained the children in little more than a month to be prepared for the concert. Then on 15 September the final big celebration was held in Geneina Theatre in Azhar Park. The Nagham Masri (Egyptian Tune) band performed and the prominent archaeologist Dr Wassim al-Sissi gave a speech,” Mr Harak said.
“Celebrations for Egyptian New Year started in 2007 with a similar celebration in the Village of the Pharaohs in Giza. It is a fact that the number of participants is increasing, and many intellectuals want to share our goal of making the Egyptian calendar the official calendar of Egypt besides the Gregorian and the Hijri calendars.” And it is no secret that Islamists disagree with that, basing on their call for the precedence of the Islamic identity over any other, even the national Egyptian.
Egyptian feasts are annual celebrations in which everyone may take part regardless of belief, because these feasts celebrate nature, not a religion or dogma. They create unity and nurture the spirit of Egyptian nationality, which is why it is important to celebrate the Egyptian New Year; the Tree Day, originally the Day of the Tree of Osiris; Sham al-Nessim, the Spring/Summer feast; and Wafaa## al-Nil, the annual Nile Flood Day.
The knowledge of ancient Egyptians reached great heights, and this deserves to be celebrated each year. Although they only had the natural indicators of stars, sunrise/sunset, moon and flood) observing these phenomena, organising and making use of them were a great creation and are a source of pride.
30 September 2010
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