“Egyptians preceded other civilizations to celebrating public holidays and organizing massive convoys; they were an inspiration for the Greeks.” These are the words Greek Historian Herodotus used to describe the character of the ancient Egyptian and his early passion for celebrations and festivities.
This May, the Egyptian museums are feting the ‘celebrational Egyptian character’ by displaying a collection of memorabilia and antiquities documenting Egyptian festivities throughout different historical eras.
The Coptic Museum documents the festivities of ancient Egyptians with a carved wooden board featuring a group of female musicians accompanied with a number of children playing acrobat in a popular festival-like ambiance.
The Rokn Farouk Museum, in Helwan, takes visitors decades back with photographs of King Farouk and Queen Narriman signed by the royal photographer Riad Shehata; the photographs are placed in wooden frames decorated with royal crowns.
The Royal Carriages Museum exhibits a vehicle that was used to host senior visitors in official events, while the Gayer-Anderson Museum displays a small wooden drum dating to the 18-19th century. The Cairo International Airport Museum - Terminal 2 displays a Coptic manuscript featuring prayers performed during the fourth month of the Coptic year.
The ancient Egyptian had a ‘great celebrative character’, said Egyptologist Dr. Bassam al-Shammaa. “The ancient Egyptian language included the words ‘holiday’ and ‘love’. Ancient Egypt was even ruled by a king named Horemheb, which means ‘worshiped in holiday’,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Shammaa cites historian Herodotus, who said “Egyptians taught the world the meaning of celebrations.” “Egyptians preceded other civilizations to celebrating public holidays and organizing massive convoys; they were an inspiration for the Greeks. Egyptians started festivities a long time ago, while Greeks didn’t know these practices until recently. Egyptians don’t celebrate one public holiday once a year, they had many occasions,” wrote Herodotus.
The Tanta Museum of Antiquities displays the wheat mummy from the Romanian and Greek eras embodying God Osiris wrapped with linen and placed inside a coffin-shaped like God Horus; the New Valley Museum exhibits a faience bowl from the Roman and Greek eras featuring plant carvings, goddess Hathor, and an animal head used as decoration for the new year festivities.
“The ancient Egyptian holidays were many and increased annually. According to writings by King Thutmose III engraved on the Karnak Temple, ancient Egypt celebrated 54 holidays per year, while the Habu Temple walls in western Luxor, reveals that it had 60 holidays during the rule of King Ramesses III,” said Shammaa.
He added that “Herodotus described some ancient Egyptian holidays including one that was celebrated 2,400 years ago, during which people took small boats and headed to Tal Basit in Al-Sharqiya Province, while playing drums and flutes, signing and applauding,” noting that “according to Herodotus, these festivities were attended by 700,000 men and women.”
Shammaa suggests setting a special calendar marking the dates of ancient Egyptian holidays to re-celebrate some of them, especially those resembling the current Egyptian lifestyle, to promote tourism. Among these is the ‘Lantern Holiday’ that was held annually in the Nile Delta, during which people illuminated lanterns around their houses.” According to Herodotus, “lights covered all of Egypt on that night.”
In November 2021, Egypt celebrated the opening of the Sphinxes Avenue, on the Opet Holiday, which was celebrated in Ancient Egypt 3,500 ago. It’s a celebratory convoy featuring the kindness triad Gods Amun, Mut, and Khonsu in their sacred vehicle on their way from the Karnak Temple to the Luxor Temple.” At the time, the ministry of tourism and antiquities said it’s “considering enlisting this holiday on its touristic calendar to re-celebrate it every year.”