Those looking for a break from their traditional Easter this year can find refuge on the Red Sea Coast. Ethiopia and Egypt are celebrating Easter and the arrival of spring with their own traditions. While the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Fasika focuses on the solemn and religious nature of the season, Egypt’s Sham el Nessim relies more on tradition, making it accessible to all religions in the region.
Ethiopia Rejoices During Fasika
Travellers to Ethiopia during Fasika, which takes place based on the Eastern Christian calendar, will find people in a state of reflection and fasting. The 55 days leading up to Easter have strict dietary guidelines which limit food intake. When Easter Sunday arrives, mass is held in the local church. All of the followers can not usually fit inside the church and sometimes it must be held outside under a large tent. Decorative Vitenge and Kanga (cloth made to look like trees or butterflies) are hung from the ceiling. Long after light is gone the priest announces that Christ has risen. It is now 3am and the celebration shall begin.
Christian hymns are sung with the beating of drums and the high-pitched Kigelegele cries of the women. Dancing and feasting brings the fast to a close as the Ethiopians celebrate life. Formal dress of stark white robes dance against the jewel tone robes of the priests. Sequined umbrellas add to the mesmerizing spectacle before you. The celebration continues through the day with great feasting and family.
Further up the Coast, Egypt Celebrates Sham el Nessim
The holiday celebrates the coming of spring and agriculture. Many believe Egypt to be the first civilization to celebrate this season. Historically, salted fish, lettuce and onions are offered to the gods on this day. Today, picnics have become a large part of the celebration. Egyptians feast on meals made up of the former offerings and search out one of the few patches of grass in the region. Families enjoy the spring breeze while munching their lunch and reflecting on its purpose. Onion grass or scallion is meant to drive away the evil eye, Fiseekh is a salted fish to bring in a good harvest (although many opt for tuna from a can fro this part of the ritual because of deaths from botulism reported from eating Fiseekh), dyed boiled eggs are remnants from a past traditions of hanging them in temples and palaces as symbols of rebirth. The eggs serve as art to enhance the beauty and joy of the day and are the ancestors of modern Easter eggs.
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