Holidays are important in every country around the world. Each country and religion has their own holidays to celebrate, and Egypt is no different, especially with its Egyptian Festivals. Family and celebration is a huge part of Egyptians life, from ancient Egypt, to today. We let you know about some of the major holiday periods, and traditions you can experience on your trip to Egypt. These are great times to visit this amazing country!
Most Islamic holidays are celebrated according to the Islamic calendar. It is a lunar calendar divided into 12 months of 29 or 30 days. The months are: Muharram, Safar, Rabi al-Awwal, Rabi al-Thani, Jumada al-Awwal, Jumada al-Thani, Rajab, Shaban, Ramadan, Shawwal, Dhu al-Qadah, Dhu al-Hijja. The lunar year is 10-11 days shorter than the calendar year, which is why the dates of the Muslim calendar move forward every year compared to the calendar used in Western countries. Due to this, Muslim holidays are movable holidays. In addition, according to the Muslim calendar, the day begins after sunset, so the celebration of Islamic holidays begins in the evening the day before.
Even if you are not interested in Islamic holidays, it is worth paying attention to Ramadan. This is the period when the majority of Muslims (90% of Egyptians) observe a strict fast from sunrise to sunset throughout the month. Fasting lasts for twenty-nine to thirty days. This shouldn't cause many problems for travelers. However, the evening festivities are a great opportunity to listen to regional music and experience the wonderful Egyptian festival hospitality.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar that commemorates the revelation of the Qur'an to the prophet Muhammad. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking (including water), smoking, sex, and anger. Ramadan affects the opening hours of offices, shops, schools and the timetable of public transport. There is a break at sunset so that the faithful can break their fast. Many restaurants and cafes that serve Egyptians are closed during the day. However, some of the inconveniences will be more than compensated by the opportunity to participate in various ceremonies and learn about Muslim traditions. From sunset, which is signaled by the sound of sirens or gunshots; the lighting of lamps on minarets, lighting on houses, and colorful lanterns, the streets are filled with an atmosphere of peace and joy. Hundreds or thousands of worshipers descend on local mosques for evening prayers and then spill out into city streets to enjoy their iftar - the meal that breaks their fast. The city has a celebratory buzz and music throughout the evening, and the small town, main square cafes have a celebratory buzz and music.
At the end of Ramadan, there is a three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr (Small Feast). In the capital of Egypt, Cairo, the biggest celebrations take place, but in smaller towns, the celebrations are more private. At this time, Egyptians flock to parks, botanical gardens, family parks, zoos, and they visit family and friends. Children are happiest then as they receive new clothes, shoes, and small amounts of money from family members. Egyptians then eat special cookies baked at the end of Ramadan. This Egyptian holiday is very family-oriented.
Equally important in the Muslim calendar is the Fourth Day of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha), which commemorates Abraham's obedience to God and his willingness to sacrifice his son. It is also the time when the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) takes place. Every Muslim dreams of being in Mecca during this holiday because it is one of the pillars of Islam. Wealthy Egyptians go on this pilgrimage, and those who cannot do so celebrate in Egypt by sacrificing a sheep or calf and dividing the meat between family members, neighbors, friends and the poor. Animals are killed in front of houses and in the streets. Therefore, in the week before Eid al-Adha, you can see a lot of sheep on the streets of Egyptian cities.
About three weeks after the Festival of Sacrifice comes Ras as-Sana al-Hajj, the Muslim New Year, which falls on the first day of the month of Muharram. New Year's Day falling on January 1st is not typically celebrated. Some government offices and public schools are open at this time, especially in the south of Egypt.
The fourth important holiday in Egypt is the birthday of the Prophet Muhamad (Mawlid an-Nabi). This day was not celebrated in early Islam. The custom of celebrating this day arose in the 10th-11th centuries in Egypt, perhaps under the influence of Christians who attached great importance to the day of Christ's birthday. However, not all Muslim authorities recognize this holiday. According to the Wahhabis, this festival contradicts the Qur'an because it worships someone other than Allah (God).
For Muslim mystics, Sufis, who consider the Prophet Muhammad to be a "perfect man", this holiday is of great importance. On this day, poems praising the prophet are recited in mosques. In addition, processions pass through the streets and festive fairs are held.
In Egypt, all children wait for Mawlid an-Nabi, because on this day fathers bring home special sweets. These very sweet sweets are bought by the kilo. The seller puts them into a decorative cardboard box and the whole box is tied with a colored ribbon. Sweets are available in bakeries and street stalls 2-3 weeks before Mawlid an-Nabi and a few days after. Outside of this period, they are almost non-existent. That's why they taste so special, because the Egyptians get to enjoy them on only a few days a year during the Egyptian celebration.
The main ingredient of the sweets for Mawlid an-Nabi is icing mixed with desiccated coconut, raisins, peanuts or combined with jelly. These sweets also include sesame, nut and almond bars. In addition to rectangular and round shapes, halala (sweets) takes the form of cockerels, horses, dolls, etc. All of this is in order to make it as much fun as possible for the youngest enthusiasts of the Egyptian holiday.
Egyptians make wishes and celebrate this day with additional prayers, often with fasting, and women prepare a better dinner. Traditionally, whole families meet in the afternoon at home, in restaurants or cafes. Mini-picnics with sweets are organized in the open air. In small towns and villages, the bride and groom give their guests sweets and a certain amount of money.
The Christian people date their holidays according to the Julian calendar, which is also used in the Orthodox Church. This applies to holidays such as: Egypt Christmas Holiday (7 January), Epiphany (19 January), Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (21 March). The date of Easter and the holidays associated with it are calculated on the basis of the solar Coptic calendar. Therefore, the date of the Coptic Easter holiday may differ by one month from the date of both Orthodox and Catholic holidays.
More than a few current Egyptian celebration customs date back to very ancient times, including the festival known as Sham el Nessim. Sham el Nessim literally means "sniffing the wind" and marks the beginning of spring. It is celebrated on the first Monday after Coptic Easter.
The Egyptian holiday is associated with the agriculture of ancient Egypt, specifically with fertility rites, which were later added to Christianity and Easter celebrations. It is believed that the Egyptians were the first to celebrate this event.
Sham el Nessim seems to be an Egyptian holiday as old as Egypt. The name of the Egyptian holiday actually comes from the ancient Egyptian harvest season, which was called "Shamo". According to the chronicles of Plutarch, the ancient Egyptians offered salted fish, lettuce and onions to their deities on this day.
The spring festival coincided with the spring equinox and the ancient people imagined that this day symbolized the beginning of creation. The date of Sham El Nessim, therefore, was not strictly fixed. The feast was movable and announced every year at the foot of the Great Pyramid on the night before it. The word "Shamo" translates as "renewal of life", this meaning was later changed by the Copts to "shamm" (sniffing or inhalation) and added the word "nessim" (wind). The ancient Egyptians first celebrated Shamo in 2700 BC, towards the end of the Third Dynasty.
Sham el Nessim is celebrated by eating traditional food, i.e. salted fish (mackerel, sardines), boiled painted eggs, spring onions and lettuce. Food is consumed in the morning in the bosom of nature, sitting on a blanket or mat spread out on the grass.
In ancient Egypt, it was believed that offering fish to the gods would ensure a good harvest. Salted fish symbolizes fertility and prosperity. Fishing was plentiful when the waters of the Nile receded after the spring floods, leaving the fish in shallow waters where they could be easily caught.
In the times of the pharaohs, eggs were dyed and hung in temples as symbols of the rebirth of life. Colorful eggs are not only symbols of new life, but they are also small works of art that please the eyes of the participants of spring Egyptian celebration picnics. Dyed eggs from the time of the pharaohs are the direct predecessor of today's Easter eggs.
Green onions (spring onions) also appear to have a special meaning in the Spring Festival. It has been discovered that in ancient times, onions were stuffed into the eyes of mummies and this vegetable was also drawn on the walls of tombs. For today's Egyptians, onions have a different symbolic meaning. It protects against the evil eye and envy, and besides, it has healing properties. Lettuce, on the other hand, gives a sense of optimism at the beginning of spring.
Sham el Nessim is a public Egyptian holiday, free from work and study. Not all Muslims celebrate the first day of spring as Sham el Nessim is seen in Egypt as a Christian holiday, not Islamic. However, many Muslims are looking for an excuse to break the routine of the week and go out of town with the family on that day, spending time in nature, eating outdoors and enjoying the spring breeze.
The festival varies by region. In Alexandria, the Montazah Palace opens its gardens to the public on this day. In Sham el Nessim, the Alexandrians admire and revel in the scent of almost 20,000 species of plants. Folklore dance groups perform in the open air, and military shows, parades and concerts occur.
In cities located along the Nile, picnics are held by the river. Those who live by the sea have breakfast on the beach that day. In other places, however, Egyptians meet in parks, botanical gardens, and even organize trips to the zoo.
Religious Egyptian holidays, both Muslim and Christian, are times of joyful public Egypt celebrations. During such days there is a unique atmosphere of hospitality in Egypt.
Egyptian national holidays (Egyptian festivals commemorating events important to the Egyptian people) are celebrated by the entire population. These Egyptian holidays include:
- A winter Holiday in Egypt is Revolution and National Police Day; commemorates the 2011 Revolution (January 25th)
- Sinai Liberation Day April 25, 1982; commemorates the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai (25 April)
- June 30 Revolution (June 30)
- The July 23 Revolution Day - commemorates the 1952 Revolution (23 July)
- Armed Forces Day; commemorates the crossing of the Suez Canal by Egyptian forces during the October War of 1973 (6 October)
Government offices, banks, state schools and universities are closed on the following holidays: Coptic Christmas Day, January 25th Revolution and National Police Day, Sham El-Nessim, Eid Al-Fitr (3 days), Sinai Liberation Day, Labor Day, Eid Al-Adha (4 days), June 30 Revolution, Islamic New Year, The July 23 Revolution Day, Prophet Muhammad's Birthday, Armed Forces Day.
This is a total of 17 days off. That's quite a lot! Lately in Egypt it is customary to move public holidays that are during the week to Thursdays in order to have a long weekend. Friday and Saturday are the days when public offices, banks and schools are closed. However, this does not apply to religious holidays in Egypt and Sham el-Nessim spring festival.
Mother's Day is an important holiday in Egypt. On March 21, every Egyptian mom celebrates one of the most beautiful holidays celebrated in Egypt in the calendar is Eid al Umm. This day is special, solemn and unique, because it's all moms' day after all. The celebration is accompanied by cards, flowers, wishes and family meetings. Small gifts are given to their mothers not only by children, but also by some husbands who give gifts to their wives. In this way, they express respect, love, and thanks for the effort put into raising children. In kindergartens and schools, shows of artistic programs are prepared on the occasion of Mother's Day, during which students sing songs, recite poems and dance. The guests of honor at these performances are, of course, mothers.
An increasingly popular holiday in Egypt in large cities such as Cairo and Alexandria is Valentine's Day (14 February), when flower shops become crowded.
In the Land of the Pharaohs, all Egyptian traditions and celebration have a family character, with deeply rooted family ties, they are an element of tradition. It is hard to imagine that Muslims or Christians celebrate their holidays away from their families.
Book one of our luxury Egypt tours today, and sample the the wonderful Egyptian festival hospitality for yourself!