THE FEAST OF NAIROUZ (COPTIC NEW YEAR’S DAY)

The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 3rd Century BC) wrote about the Ancient Egyptian Calendar: “The Ancient Egyptians were the first to make a calendar. They split the year into 12 parts according to the knowledge they had about the stars, and I have discerned that they are thriftier than the Greeks. For the Egyptians made the months 30 days each, but they added 5 days at the year’s end so that the cycle closes and comes back to the starting point.”The Egyptians, since the year 4241 BC, divided the year into 12 zodiacs grouped into 3 seasons; Flood, Sowing and Harvest (Each of them 4 months long). They also split the year into weeks and days, the day into 24 hours, the hour into 60 minutes, the minute into 60 seconds and even the second they split into 60 dividends.The Coptic Year is a stellar year, i.e. associated with the orbit of the Sirius, the most luminous star in the Canis Majoris. The Egyptians used to watch for the glowy appearance of this star which preceded sunrise opposite the Sphinx’s nose on the feast day of their great god, which corresponded to the day the Nile inundation reached Memphis, the old capital of Egypt (South of modern day Giza). The Egyptians counted the length of the year as 365 days (according to that star’s orbit). However, they gradually noticed that their important statutory feast occupied their corresponding astronomical positions only once every 1460 years. So they divided 365 by 1460 and found the result to be ¼. They consequently added ¼ of a day to the year’s length to make it 365 & ¼ days. This summed up to one complete day at the end of the 4th  year, the Leap Year.In this way the feasts started to fall into their right position as regards the lengths of day and night. This adjustment was formulated in a meeting of the Egyptian astronomer priests that was held in Canopus (modern Abukir, east of Alexandria) in the 3rd century BC. The modification was legalized by a famous edict of Ptolemy III, which was termed “Edict of Canopus”. The months of the Coptic Year are consecutively: Tut, Babeh, Hathur, Kiyahk, Touba, Amshir, Paramhat, Bermuda, Pashons, Paouna, Abib, Mesra and lastly the Small Month, the Nasiy, which is only 5 days long (6 days in Leap Years). These months are still in usage in Egypt, not only in church rituals but also in rural and, in particular, agrarian life. The Copts actually abolished all the years before the Era of Martyrdom, and made the Calendar to start anew with the year in which Emperor Diocletian was enthroned (which later was identified as 284 AD), as he was the emperor who tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of Copts. This new Calendar came to be known later on as the Anna Martyrium, of which we are now starting the year 1728.

 

 

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