I’m a day-plus late wishing a Happy Easter to any Orthodox Christians who might be reading, so please forgive me for that. Most of you probably know this already, but in case you don’t, Easter always happens a few weeks later for Orthodox churches than for Catholic/Protestant churches because Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar for holidays where western churches switched to the Gregorian calendar centuries ago. Some people also say the dates are off because Orthodox churches always celebrate Easter after Passover, but I can’t seem to get a straight answer on that and I’ll confess that Orthodox religious practices are somewhat outside my area of familiarity.
Today also happens to be a holiday (or happened to be; I’m a little late on this) if you live in Egypt and Sudan. Sham al-Nassim (Sham el-Nessim in Egyptian transliteration), or “smelling the breeze,” is annually celebrated on Coptic (in other words, Orthodox) Easter Monday. Its origins go back, if you can believe it, to an Ancient Egyptian holiday called Shemu, which celebrated the beginning of the harvest season. Over time, that holiday got wrapped up with Easter as a marker of spring and, well, here we are. Technically a Coptic holiday (well, technically its a pagan holiday I guess, but who’s counting?), it’s nonetheless celebrated pretty widely among Egyptian society and fairly widely in Sudan as well. People spend the day outdoors (smelling the breeze), maybe picnicking in a public park or along the Nile, and eating foods that are representative of spring and fertility (lettuces, green onions, eggs, and so on). Traditionally they also eat a traditional Egyptian dish called Fesikh, which is fermented mullet fish, though your guess is as good as mine as to what that has to do with celebrating spring. Anyway, Happy Sham el-Nessim if you’re celebrating it!