Happy Coptic New Year 1724  

 Ishaq Ibrahim

On Tuesday the Egyptian Church celebrates the Coptic New Year 1724 Anno Martyrus, or year of the martyrs. The Coptic calendar is the ancient Egyptian one of twelve 30-day months plus a "small" five-day month—six-day in a leap year.

The months retain their ancient Egyptian names which denote the gods and godesses of the Egyptians, and the year’s three seasons, the inundation, cultivation, and harvest, are related to the Nile and the annual agricultural cycle. But the Copts chose the year 284AD to mark the beginning of the calendar, since this year saw the seating of Diocletian as Rome’s emperor and the consequent martyrdom of thousands upon thousands of Egypt’s Christians.

Apart from the Church’s celebration, Copts celebrate the New Year by eating red dates, which are now in season, believing the red symbolises the martyrs’ blood and the white date heart the martyrs’ pure hearts.

This year, more than one of Egypt’s NGOs has been eager to mark the Coptic New Year or Feast of al-Nairuz. The interest centres on Nairuz being a thoroughly Egyptian heritage and, as such, warrants preservation. The Enlightenment Society held a seminar under the title "Nairuz is a national day for all Egyptians.

Intellectual Bayoumi Qandil explained that ‘nairuz’ originated from the Coptic word ‘T-yar’ou’ meaning rivers, since the New Year date coincides with the fullness of the annual inundation of the River Nile. The word later metamorphosed into the Persian ‘nairuz’ meaning new day.

Qandil said it was Egypt’s largely illiterate rural community which preserved the Coptic calendar, since it is very closely connected to their agricultural activity. Arabic or Latin months mean nothing to them, but Tout is the full inundation, Hatour is the month of sowing, Kiyahk is the mid-winter month with the shortest days, Amsheer comes in with its famous windstorms, and Ba’ouna with its oppressive summer heat.

Popular quotes describe each month in a short jiggle rhyme. Each month is also famous for a specific produce. Egyptians talk of Hatour bananas, Ba’ouna’s honey, Misra grapes, or Kiyahk fish.
Qandil stressed the fact that we need to hold on to our authentic Egyptian heritage in order to counterbalance the onslaught of incoming Wahhabi culture.

Another NGO, the Egyptian Citizenship Home, called for reviving the Nairuz as a feast for all Egyptians. In a Coptic New Year commemoration, University professor and supervisor at the Supreme Council of Culture Emad Abu-Ghazi talked of the manner in which Egyptians, men and women, celebrated the New Year in river and garden festivals of song and dance.

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