Today is Sham el Nessim, the Egyptian Spring festival celebrated for over 4,000 years. In Ancient Egypt, the festival was celebrated on or around the spring equinox, but at some point in the early Christian era, Egyptian Christians (Copts) moved the festival to the day after Orthodox Easter and it is celebrated on that day still, by all Egyptians, regardless of religion.
Sham el Nessim means “smell the breeze” and the day is marked with time spent outdoors in parks and on beaches and boats, enjoying picnics with family and friends. It’s traditional to eat Fesikh (fermented gray mullet), salted and smoked herring, spring onions and painted hard-boiled eggs. The foods all represent the fertility of the new season. The symbolism of eggs is obvious, spring onions represent new growth, and, for ancient Egyptians, fish symbolized rebirth.
The powerful smell of Fesikh is legendary. It seems logical to me that the smell has something to do with the outdoors eating, but I can’t get anyone to confirm that. The origins of these traditions are murky. If you’re in Egypt on Sham el Nessim, do join in the festivities, just be sure any Fesikh you eat comes from an experienced and reputable dealer. If not properly prepared, Fesikh can make you very sick and has even caused a few deaths.