A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sham al-Nassim

Today is Sham al-Nassim, the spring holiday celebrated in Egypt (and Sudan) on the Monday after Coptic Easter, though it is a holiday celebrated by Muslims as well as Christians, and said by some to be a survival of the ancient Egyptian festival of Shemu. (Despite the similarities of the name, "Sham al-Nassim" is Arabic for "smelling the breeze," and since everyone near the Nile goes to picnic by the river, it's a perfectly descriptive and appropriate name.) I've posted on the questions of origins before, but it seems to me that what makes this Sham al-Nassim worth mentioning is that, at a time when Muslim-Christian relations are tense, and Islamist-secular relations as well, this is a holiday celebrated by all Egyptians, not specific to one religion, or the creation of the modern state like National Day, Military Day, and various anniversaries. It shares that distinction with one other Egyptian holiday that is definitely of Ancient Egyptian origin: Wafa'a al-Nil, the mid-August celebration of the Nile flood, still celebrated though the High Dam has ended the annual floods.

[UPDATE: Some Islamists called for boycotting Sham al-Nassim as "un-Islamic." It isn't working: turnouts are as big as ever according to Ahram Online.]

So for Sham al-Nassim I send greetings to all Egyptians and Sudanese, Muslim and Christian and Jewish, secular and Islamist, whether they are near the Nile today or anywhere else in the world. It's also a holiday associated with certain foods: with coloring eggs (sound familiar?), eating the dry salt fish called fasikh, and other foods such as green onions and other vegetables. Here's a photo celebrating the symbols of Sham al-Nassim:

Sham al-Nissim delicacies (Al Kahira-Cairo-LeCaire)

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