Celebrating Shamm el-Nessim in Egypt

Celebrating Shamm el-Nessim in Egypt by A Crafty Arab

In Egypt,
the Monday following Easter Sunday is a national holiday. 

People in cities and villages alike prepare
picnic baskets and go out to celebrate the coming of spring by “sniffing the
breeze.”  For the name of this holiday,
“Shamm el-Nessim,” means just that.

Celebrating Shamm el-Nessim in Egypt by A Crafty Arab
This uniquely Egyptian holiday is thought to date back to
the time of ancient Egypt,
and seems to have been celebrated throughout the Greek, Roman, Coptic and
Muslim periods of Egyptian history. 

It is
not a religious holiday, and is celebrated by people of all religious
background, much as it was 4,000 years ago.


Shamm el-Nessim’s picnic festivals include tahtib, or stick
dances, in which two men perform a ritualized and highly skilled mock battle in
slow motion with wooden poles over seven feet long.  Each dancer must attempt to strike a blow
(gently, since the aim is to score points, not to injure) while maintain his
own balance and moving in time to the music of the drums and flutes.  As the tempo of the music increases, the
dance becomes more and more exciting. 
Scenes of stick dancers have been found inscribed in walls of tombs and
temples of ancient Egypt.

Beautifully dressed dancing Arabian horses also perform, and
every family plays favorite games as well.
Celebrating Shamm el-Nessim in Egypt by A Crafty Arab

The traditional foods of Shamm el-Nessim have their own
meanings.  Feseekh, a salted dried fish,
is claimed by historians to have been introduced by the ancient Egyptians, who
understood that unsalted fresh fish would quickly point and cause illness to
those who ate it.  Hard-boiled eggs, like
our Easter eggs, represented the origin of creation to the ancient Egyptians,
Greeks and Romans.  Eating them on Shamm
el-Nessim is considered lucky.


Some things for you to try:
Experiment with dyeing hard-boiled eggs with natural colors,
as the ancient Egyptians did.  The eggs
should not be boiled in an aluminum pot, or the dye will not take. 

Try the following foods and juices: tea, red
onion skins (brown, red-brown, orange), beet juice (red), turmeric (yellow),
and leaves of fresh anise or dill week (green). 
Boil the leaves or juices until the color permeates the water; dip the
eggs in, and leave them until they are the shade you want.  Be sure to wear old clothes for this project,
since these dyes are permanent.

Plan a Shamm el-Nessim picnic for your class.  Make a complete menu for your picnic basket
and plan what games you would like to play. 
Fisseekh is not available in the Unites States, so you might want to
substitute sardines or albacore tuna instead. 

Arab pocket bread is available in many large cities.  In any case, be sure your meal is balanced
with a protein food (the eggs can do for this), green vegetable and fruit, and
bread. 

Mint tea is the customary
beverage (you may wish to have fruit juice instead).

Celebrating Shamm el-Nessim in Egypt by A Crafty Arab