An Egyptian Easter: the season of tolerance

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

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We are living through days that only God knows where they will lead us to. I and many others think that the Egyptians are suffering from a great deal of depression and of strange mixed feelings of anger, despair, futility, the desire to scream and the desire to approach God and pray that he rids us and rids the country of the heavy burden we have been suffering from. This however will not prevent us from always trying to maintain hope of restoring the country to its sons with no discrimination or elimination in order to have a country for all citizens.

An aspect of holding on to our country's features is the permanent recalling of its original culture and celebrating it without looking at whether this culture is Muslim or Christian but rather that it is an Egyptian culture.

The homeland

Egypt, our homeland, carries its culture within it. Egypt has been capable throughout history to respond with all cultures that passed through it or lived in it. And this is how the unique fabric of the Egyptian character developed.

Thus, Egypt acquired its own special taste in dealing with cultures and religions. Each culture and religion that entered Egypt acquired a pure special taste. No culture survived in Egypt except by responding to the nature of the centrist moderate Egyptian character that has its special spirit.

When Christianity arrived in Egypt, the Day of Resurrection was introduced and the Egyptians' celebration of their day came right after it. So the Copts celebrated Easter on Sunday and “Sham Ennisim” fell on Monday. The latter is a day that Egyptians inherited from their ancestors, the pharaohs. Celebrating this feast has been inherited by generations throughout all eras. It is celebrated by carrying out the same rituals and by abiding by the same traditions and habits that have not been even slightly altered since the era of the pharaohs until now. After Islam was introduced to Egypt, Egyptians, whether Muslim or Copts, celebrated this Egyptian day after they all celebrated the Day of Resurrection.

Sham Ennisim

The word "Sham Ennisim" is an old Egyptian word that means "Harvest Season." Many think that the word is Arabic. In fact, it is an ancient Egyptian word. And the "Harvest Season" means the day which ancient Egyptians believed to have been the day the world was created in.

Egypt, our homeland, carries its culture within it. Egypt has been capable throughout history to stand strong against cultures that attempted to conquer it.

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

When Christianity spread throughout the entirety of Egypt by the 14th century, the Egyptians faced a problem over when to celebrate this Egyptian feast (Sham Ennisim) because it always fell on Lent, which comes before Easter. Lent is distinguished with extreme asceticism, seclusion and worship. And of course, Lent is distinguished with the practice of abstaining from all foods of animal origins, including fish which is considered an important aspect in celebrating Sham Ennisim. Thus it was difficult to celebrate it during Lent. So the Egyptian Christians thought then that celebrating Sham Ennisim must be postponed until after Lent. And they agreed to celebrate it after Easter Day which always comes on a Sunday. And thus Sham Ennisim always falls on the Monday which follows that Sunday.

People in Egypt continued to celebrate this feast until after Islam was introduced in the country. So it remained an inherited tradition that carries the same rituals and traditions which have not been changed since the days of the pharaohs.

This caught the attention of British Orientalist Edward William Lane who visited Cairo in 1834. He described the Egyptians' celebration of this feast by saying: "They go early to the neighboring countryside. They stroll in the Nile and head north to smell the breeze. They think that the breeze - on this day - has a beneficial effect. Most of them have lunch in the countryside or in the Nile." These are the same traditions the Egyptians practice today.

Egypt continues to be that homeland which was born to stay, and Egyptians continue to be this homeland's adornment. May all Egyptians be well at this time, next year.

Abdel Latif el-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of "Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak," a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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