Shamm al-Nessim is the Egyptian spring feast that goes back to ancient Egypt; it was first celebrated around 2700BC. Its name derives from the Coptic language which is in turn based on the ancient Egyptian language. It was originally pronounced ‘Tshom Ni Sime‘, a phrase that roughly translates into ‘garden meadows’.
Shamm al-Nessim marked the day the sun rays aligned over the Great Pyramid of Giza, when the length of the day equals that of night and the sun is in the Aries zodiac.
When Christianity was preached in Egypt by St Mark in the first AD century and Egyptians embraced it, the spring feast frequently came during Lent. Since Lent does not lend itself to feasting, Egyptians decided to celebrate Shamm al-Nessim the day following Easter. And so it continues to be celebrated until today.
The spring feast is celebrated in the outdoors by Egyptians of all walks of life. They go out to gardens or the river bank where they picnic, eating the traditional salted fish, onions, and coloured boiled eggs. All these foods carry intonations of the regeneration of life and health; onions especially were believed by ancient Egyptians to have the power to drive away evil spirits.
This year, with the threat of coronavirus pandemic dictating restriction of gatherings, it is not advisable for families and friends to crowd gardens or popular outdoor sites.
20 April 2020