The New Year in Egypt is a public holiday that is observed with much fanfare. Although in the present times the date of the New Year is declared much beforehand thanks to the blessings of technology, but as per the traditions the official announcements are made at the mosque only after the sighting of the crescent moon occurs. It is a joyous day for the people of the land to make merry.
Beliefs Related to Egyptian New Year
Ancient Egyptian culture has always been deeply intertwined with the River Nile which has always held a significant part in every aspect of the Egyptian civilization.
As such, the people of Egypt observed their New Year corresponding with the annual flood of the River Nile.
From the accounts of the Roman writer Censorinus we come to know that the Egyptians calculated their New Year based on the sighting of Sirius, the brightest amongst the stars in the night sky. New Year was declared when Sirius became visible after a period of 70 days absence. This incident was termed as the heliacal rising and it occurred sometime in the middle of the month of July just prior to the annual Nile inundation. This contributed towards keeping the farmland fertile.
This phenomenon was termed as the Wepet Renpet (Opening of the Year), and New Year, as such, in Egypt was a time for marking rebirth and rejuvenation, and was observed with traditional rites, rituals and feasts. The New Year in Egypt is also linked to the legend of the Sun God Ra saving the entire humanity from the clutches of Sekhmet, the war Goddess, who had planned to eradicate the human race, by making her drink till she got unconscious. This new lease of life for the human race is naturally celebrated by the Egyptians with much merriment.
Since majority of the people residing in Egypt follow Islam as their religion, the New Year for them is marked by the Islamic Hijri calendar, and it marks the day on which Prophet Muhammad was born. This day is also referred to as Maulid or Mawlid.
In Cairo, the New Year’s Day is celebrated in a carnival spirit with circus performers, dancers, singers and musicians congregating from all over Egypt to entertain people. Foods and sweets are also sold.
Now let us look at the traditions that are observed in the country to mark a New Year –
Sighting the Crescent Moon
In Egypt New Year commences only after crescent moon is sighted. This sighting takes place at the Muhammad Ali Mosque located on a hill top in Cairo. The religious leader known as the Grand Mufti hails the sighting, and then the message is passed on to the others waiting outside the mosque. People wish each other “Kol Sana We Enta Tayeb”, and then go on to their families to enjoy the occasion.
Greeting family, friends and neighbors
In villages, it was often the custom of the heads of the families to go out wishing all the other houses on the occasion of the New Year. They visit one home after the other and in the end visit the home of the Mayor. Today the custom has become compact, and people visit homes of their extended family and friends to exchange greetings. In some places New Year parties are organized here people can come together to meet each other instead of having to visit individual homes.
It is customary for the families to wear colorful new clothes to mark the joyous occasion. Even the women folk who are traditionally seen in black attires are allowed wear other colors on this day.
New Year in Egypt is a happy occasion and feasting is a major part of the celebrations. Most families in Egypt have sumptuous meals on this day that traditionally includes a meat item.
Symbolic Dolls for Children
Sweets are made in the shape of dolls for children. Girls get sweets made in a shape of a girl in a pretty dress while boys get sweets that resemble the figure of a boy on horseback. The sweets are further adorned with colored paper shaped like an accordion.