Sniffing the Breeze

A lot of people have asked what happens in Egypt during Easter. Well, for a start, the Coptic Christian Easter kicks off a week later – so it all starts happening this weekend.

It’s a holiday for most of the country; like anywhere in the world, people are happy to take a public holiday for another religion’s feast days, so the Muslim population will enjoy a long weekend, as will the Christians.

I popped into a Catholic church last Sunday (Palm Sunday), walking in while Mass was just about to start. It was in English, and the congregation was a real mixed bag, with lots of Asian worshippers, elegant old French ladies with big gold earrings and black scarves tied over their coiffed hair, black, black Africans and a few stray whiteys. A Christian friend told me that on Easter Sunday, they will go to church for three hours (three hours!) then picnic with friends and family afterwards.

The weekend culminates in a holiday on Monday called ‘Sham el Nissem’, or ‘Sniffing the Breeze’, where everyone gets out and picnics. One website says that this feast, which is also regarded as the first day of spring, has been celebrated by Egyptians for over 4500 years, making it one of the world’s oldest.

Interesting name, the traditional thing to eat is salted anchovies, sardines and mackerel, so the breeze will be interesting indeed.

About the author

Fear is found on a creaking glacier in the Caucasus mountains and joy is encapsulated in the perfect Shanghai dumpling. And while I love a $500-a-night hotel room (who doesn’t?), sometimes the best stories are found in a $20 guesthouse. With an eye always out for good markets and great street eats, I write the travel news and features for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and features for whoever else asks. I have a particular soft spot for the wilds of the Middle East, scarves and carpets. My articles and photographs have been published in a range of consumer magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad, and occasionally I chat on radio, too, from Essentials Magazine to 3AW or the Irish Times.

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