Throughout Egyptian history, numerous festivals were celebrated during each year. The Egyptian calendar was divided into 12 months of exactly 30 days, with the year split into three seasons – Akhet, the season of inundation; Peret, the season of growing; and Shemu, the season of harvesting. An additional five days were added to the calendar that were not part of any specific month, each day celebrating a different deity.
Festivals played an integral part in worship in ancient Egypt, and often religious festivals would involve the “procession” of a god, by land or boat, across a specific route. Perhaps the most famous processional route is found at Karnak; the temple of Amun at Luxor depicts scenes of celebration as the boats of Amun, Mut and Khonsu travel from the main temple at Karnak to Luxor during the Opet Festival.
Some Prominent Festivals in Ancient Egypt
The Gods’ Birthday Parties: The Five Special Days
The five days added to the Egyptian calendar to bring it up to 365 days each involved the celebration of the birth of a specific god. The first was the birth of Osiris, the Lord of the Duat (the Egyptian underworld). The second day was the birth of Horus, a very prominent falcon-headed deity associated with kingship. The third day celebrated Seth, a god associated with chaos and the wild deserts of Egypt. The fourth and fifth days celebrated the goddesses Isis and Nepthys, two sisters who were associated with protective funerary rites and who brought the god Osiris back from the dead.
Egyptian New Year’s Day(?): The Coming Forth of Sothis (Akhet Month 1 Day 1 – allegedly!)
The Egyptian New Year was supposed to be celebrated when the star Sothis (modern Sirius) seemed to disappear from the sky and then reappear on the Eastern horizon at sunrise; this is known as the Heliacal Rising of Sothis. Although due to the nature of the Egyptian calendar, the Rising of Sothis did not coincide with the New Year (1st Month of Akhet, Day 1) as it was supposed to, the ancient Egyptians still celebrated the Peret Sopdet, the “Coming Forth of Sothis” festival, at the start of each New Year.
A 15 Day Celebration: Festival of Opet (Akhet Month 2)
During the Beautiful Festival of Opet, which stretched across 11 to 15 days, the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut and Khonsu) would travel from the Karnak Temple to the temple of Luxor. There, Amun-Re of Karnak would meet with Amun of Luxor in union. Through being united, they would ensure the re-creation of the cosmos each year. This potent union would be extended to the King of Egypt, who is depicted as part of the procession and who would also participate in the regeneration of divine power. As well as being an important part of Egyptian religious cosmology, the Opet Festival was the longest celebration in the Theban festival calendar.
The Massive Party: The Festival of the Valley (Shemu Month 2)
The Theban Festival of the Valley was celebrated on the New Moon of the second month of summer. This festival celebrated the bonds between the living and the dead, and was associated with the living strengthening their bonds with the dead. During this festival, citizens would adorn themselves with collars made of fresh flowers (called wah). Feasts were held, offerings were given to the ka of the deceased, and celebrations involved drinking alcohol, singing and dancing.
A Jubilee Festival: The Sed Festival
The Sed Festival was a special festival in Egypt celebrated by the king during the year of their 30th jubilee (although many kings enjoyed multiple Sed festivals, and the 30-year rule was not always observed!). This festival included religious rites, offerings, processions and the ‘raising of the Djed pillar’, which symbolised stability, strength and potency. On inscriptions, the King is often depicted running during the festival, symbolically proving their fitness to rule.