People across the world have begun to celebrate spring, rebirth and rejuvenation on 21 March; Egypt’s celebrations begin in mid-April and draw on a wealth of ancient traditions.
Published in Ahram Online
Spring is the season when flowers bloom and trees become green again. The tradition of celebrating spring as a symbol of rejuvenation, growth and new life goes back to the ancient world. Ancient Egyptians held festival honouring the goddess Isis and celebrating the spring harvest.
Lupercalia, a pre-Roman pastoral festival that took place around mid-February, aimed to reinvigorate health and fertility, an event originating from a spring washing and spiritual cleansing ritual known as Februa, hence the month’s name.
In ancient Mesopotamia celebrations of the New Year (or Akitu in Babylon) were among the most important festivities linked to an agricultural spring festival dedicated to the victory of the god Marduk over the goddess Tiamat, representing the watery deep and primordial chaos.
North Indian celebrations of Holi, rooted in fertility rituals, celebrate good harvest with fervour and joy. The celebrations include burning of Holika, the evening before Holi, as a symbol of a new beginning.
During Persian new year, Nowruz, celebrations mark the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Iranian calendar. The tradition of festivities that fall on 21 March has spread to many other parts of the world, including Central and South Asia.
From the traditional celebrations rooted in ancient beliefs, many nations have developed festivals of fun marking the spring season. The orange-throwing festival in Italy is self-explanatory, Malsenitsa in Russia taking place a few weeks before Russian Easter, is a time filled with fun and celebration, while Japanese Cherry Blossom festival spans over a few months from spring to summer, depending on when the blossoms open.
Many spring festivals incorporate a number of artistic themes. Passion returns to the Argentinian tango festival held in Buenos Aires between the end of February and end of March, Spring Beach music festivals scatter across the US coasts. The Pingsi Lantern Festival is a showcase of crafts and many art forms illuminated by the thousands of lanterns in Pingsi town in Taiwan, Melbourne Comedy Festival brings arts and laughter to Australia.
Across the world, spring is celebrated with a multitude of traditional and artistic festivities, where music, theatre and dance bring a fresh spirit to the streets of the cities around the globe. In many countries spring is only the beginning of a much longer series of festivals that continue throughout summer and until early autumn.
In Egypt, Sham El-Nessim marks the beginning of spring and a national holiday that falls on the day after the Eastern Christian Easter. Though linked to the Christian-related date, Egyptians regardless of religion spend the holiday outdoors in public spaces considering Sham El-Nessim to be a national, rather than religious celebration. During Sham El-Nessim many eat traditional food such as feseekh (a salted gray mullet), lettuce, scallions or green onions, and coloured boiled eggs. This year Sham El-Nessim falls on Monday 16 April.
An artistic, but not traditional, spring celebration is the Spring Festival organised every second year by Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy. This year the festival will kick off on 20 April and will continue until 14 May across Cairo, Alexandria, Minya and Assiut including a wide range of artistic activities (music, dance, storytelling, public discussions and workshops) by Egyptian and international artists.