Happy New Year 6258; Happy New Year 1733
Today, 11 September, coincides with 1 Tut which is the first day in the Egyptian New Year. The Egyptian calendar goes back to ancient Egypt, and this New Year is, according to calculations Egyptologists base on ancient texts, the Year 6258. The calendar is solar-based; the first day of the year begins with the appearance of the star Sirius on the horizon at sunrise. The year is divided into three seasons of four months each based on the annual Nile flood: the inundation, cultivation, and harvest seasons. Each of the 12 months is 30 days long, and a ‘short’ month of five days in a simple year and six days in a leap year finishes off the year. The months are named after the ancient Egyptian gods.
The ancient Egyptian calendar remained in use in Egypt till the19th century when it was discarded by Khedive Ismail (ruler of Egypt from 1863 to 1879) in favour of the Gregorian calendar which boasted international renown. Egypt’s farmers and peasants, however, continue to use it till now since all their agricultural activity is based on it.
A movement is now gaining ground among intellectuals in Egypt to revive the use of the Egyptian calendar as the valued, priceless heritage that it is. The Gregorian calendar, even though it has been in use for close to a century-and-a-half now is still alien to Egyptians who cannot even properly pronounce the names of the months, and resort to denoting them with their ‘number’ instead. January is Month 1, April is Month 4, September Month 9, and so on.
The other entity in Egypt which has to this day adhered to the Egyptian calendar is the Coptic Church. The seasons and readings of the Church remain based on that calendar, so much so that prayers, Bible readings, and supplications in Holy Mass are linked to the inundation, sowing, harvesting, and climate cycle of the year. The calendar is now famously known as the Coptic calendar, ‘Coptic’ denoting both Egyptian and Christian. The only difference between the original and the modern-day calendar is the number of the years; the Egyptian counts 6258 whereas the Coptic marks 1733 since the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian had waged such bloody persecution against the Christians in Egypt that they used the year in which he had ascended to the throne, AD284, to mark the beginning of their calendar which they baptised the Calendar of the Martyrs (Anno Martyrum, AM). To this day they celebrate the New Year of the Martyrs by eating red dates which are then in season; the red symbolises the blood of the martyrs, the white flesh of the date denotes the martyrs’ pure hearts, and the stone their solid faith.
And the Church reading of the Pauline Epistle during Mass extols: “The old has passed away; all things are become new”.
The sketch is by Farah Fouad, aged 10.
11 September 2016