Easter Tradition in the Egypt

I was fortunate to get to visit Egypt through the Shafik Gabr Foundation on a 2 week intensive fellowship in 2015. It was on this trip that I learned that like in the USA, many businesses and schools are closed on the Christian holiday Good Friday, in honor of Easter. This surprised me quite a bit, but what really surprised me was the reason Easter is celebrated no matter your religion is because it was a tradition celebrated over 2500 years before Christianity became a practiced religion.

This was originally a holiday that celebrated the turn of Spring – the Vernal Equinox – or in Arabic, Sham El Nessim. Literally translates to smelling the new breeze. This was a time of renewal and fresh starts based on the patterns of the sun and moon cycles. Eggs are often a symbol of spring, just like it is for Easter, too. The holidays are celebrated the day after one another – Easter coming first on a Sunday and then Sham El Nessim coming the day after (aka Easter Monday). No matter your religion, both holidays are celebrated by giving decorated eggs to each other and kids especially.

The meals frequently prepared in Egypt for Easter and Sham El Nessim are salted herring, green pea shoots, maamoul cookies, and choreg – a delicious brioche that you’ll see in this week’s Arabic lesson release. For US families, and mine in particular, we have a big Sunday dinner where all the out of town family comes together to eat and celebrate. We do an Easter egg hunt that everyone enjoys, and this year, when we celebrate Easter eating our freshly baked Choreg we contemplated the ancientness of this celebration and went outside, breathed in that fresh air and basked in the sun that connects and renews all of us all over the world…and ate lots of candy. I’m sure that is ancient, too right?

 Fun Facts:

  • Of the 90 million people in Egypt about 10 percent are Christian and that figure ranges from 1-10% of the population across the middle east.
  • Vernal Equinox technically already happened this year. It was March 20th, 2017.
  • According the the Farmer’s Almanac, you can stand eggs vertically throughout the equinox.