Coptic New Year

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Coptic New Year (Enkutatash)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Religious (Coptic Christian)
Date of Observation: September 11
Where Celebrated: Egypt, Ethiopia
Symbols and Customs: Dog Star, Flowers, Grass, Red Dates
Colors: The Coptic New Year is associated with the color red, symbolizing the blood of the martyrs in the Coptic Orthodox Church.


The word "Copt" comes from Hikaptah, an early name for the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis. Christians in Egypt belong to the Coptic Church, which traces its legendary origins to the first century and St. Mark. When it comes to determining the dates for certain holidays, Coptic Christians follow the old Julian calendar, which was originally devised by the ancient Egyptians and is divided into twelve thirty-day months. The five extra days (six in a Leap Year) form a thirteenth month. This means that a Julian year is 365.25 days long-slightly longer than a solar year, which is only 365.242199 days long. Over the centuries this seemingly minor discrepancy has accumulated, and the Julian calendar is now seven years and eight months behind the Western or Gregorian calendar, which was adopted in 1582. As a result, New Year's Day in the Coptic Church falls on September 11 (September 12 in a Leap Year), at a time when Christians elsewhere are just beginning to anticipate the year's end.

The Coptic New Year is observed by Coptic Christians in both Egypt and Ethiopia, as well as by Egyptian communities elsewhere in the world. It honors the martyrs of Coptic New Year

the Coptic Church, whose blood is symbolized by the wearing of red vestments and the eating of RED DATES . In Egypt, this is the day when Sirius, the DOG STAR , can again be seen in the night sky, heralding the floods that prepare the ground for planting. In Ethiopia, it marks the end of the rainy season and is called Enkutatash (or Inqutatash), which means "gift of jewels"-a reference to the return of the Queen of Sheba after her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, when her chiefs presented her enku or jewels as a "welcome home" gift. Nowadays Ethiopian children wearing brand-new clothes dance through the streets, handing out bouquets of FLOWERS . Although there are celebrations in every village, larger observances take place in the city churches, where there are prayers, sermons, and colorful processions.

Although the Coptic New Year is observed only by those who belong to the Coptic Church, it is not primarily a religious holiday. It is more of a celebration of life returning to the earth and a time to exchange gifts, visits, and New Year's greetings.


Dog Star

Sirius, commonly known as the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the sky and is part of the constellation known as Canis Major. Back when the pharaohs ruled Egypt, the Dog Star reappeared at the time of year when the Nile River would flood the plains so that farmers could sow their crops-an apt time to mark the beginning of a new year and a new planting season.


It is a Coptic New Year tradition in Ethiopia to gather and hand out bouquets of wildflowers, a symbol of the rainy season's end. Because it is a time of year when the fields are filled with yellow daisies, children in rural areas gather bunches of them and bring them from house to house, singing. Flowers are also very much in evidence in the churches. In more sophisticated urban areas, New Year greeting cards have largely replaced the traditional bouquet of flowers.


Like flowers, grass symbolizes the return of life to the earth. In Ethiopia, young girls wearing white cotton dresses go from house to house carrying bunches of long green grass, and people in rural areas often spread freshly cut grass over the floors of their houses to celebrate the end of the rainy season.

Red Dates

Bags filled with dates are often given to young children in church during the observance of the Coptic New Year, and people traditionally serve dates at home. The most popular are the red dates, because there is an old folk tale that says the Virgin Mary was sitting under a date palm one day when she took a bite out of a red date and broke a piece of her tooth off. Children consume one date after another in search of the Virgin Mary's missing tooth.

The color red is itself symbolic of the day, which is not only the first of the New Year but a day set aside in the Coptic Church to honor its martyrs. The white flesh inside the dates is considered symbolic of the martyrs' purity, and the hard pit represents the steadfastness of their faith.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Bowker, John, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.


Ethiopian Tourism Commission

Coptic New Year (Feast of El-Nayrouz)

September 11
Members of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the native Christian church in Egypt, celebrate the New Year on September 11 because it is the day on which the Dog Star, Sirius, rises in the Egyptian sky, announcing the flooding of the Nile and the new planting season.
To commemorate the martyrs of the church, red vestments and altar clothes are used on this day. A food of special significance on this day is the red date: red recalls the martyrs' blood, the light-colored flesh of the date symbolizes their purity, and the stony pit symbolizes their steadfast faith. The Coptic New Year is also celebrated by Canadians of Egyptian descent and by Egyptian communities elsewhere.
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 555
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