There was nothing better than breaking the routine of life with a grandiose festival for the ancient Egyptians. Religious or political festivals allowed both rich and poor to put away their cares for a day or two, and sometimes longer, to celebrate the best of ancient Egypt. Frequently, inscribed on the walls of such temples are detailed lists of feasts, all presented in a systematic manner. Such festival calendars were also copied and kept in the scrolls of the temple archives. From these, we can often determine whether a feast took place within the civil calendar or according to the moon. However, festival calendars tend to list the details of these celebrations, such as their date, the deity honored and perhaps a sentence concerning the involvement of a specific priest in a rather terse fashion. There in fact existed comprehensive records connected to such celebrations, but ordinarily we possess only a fraction of these original texts today. Fortunately, the walls of the the Greco-Roman temples at Dendera, Edfu, Esna, Kom Ombo and Philae provide additional information not included in the festival calendars, which allow us to reconstruct the events in greater detail. Furthermore, papyri scrolls and fragmentary biographical texts reveal intriguing and often hidden details such as processions, morning, noon and evening ablutions of the deity; chants; and speeches.
Most of the festivals that we know of from ancient Egypt are cultic, rather than civil. There were probably plenty of civil celebrations, but our sources are mostly religious. For example we know that an annual celebration was established by Ramesses III to honor his victory over the Libyans (Meshwesh), who had unsuccessfully invaded Egypt, and another secular occasion was the coronation of kings, the date of which was frequently included in religious calendars. Since Sothis had no specific cult, the heliacal Rising of Sothis (the star Sirius) might be considered a secular celebration. This event was recognized as being very important because the reappearance of Sothis after a period of seventy days' invisibility originally marked the emergence of the New Year and later was thought of as the ideal rebirth of the land.
Feast of Wagy:
Seventeen days after New Year's day, there was also the more somber feast of Wagy, which eventually became associated with the festival of Thoth on the nineteenth day of the year. This event was connected with the mortuary rituals of ancient Egypt and was celebrated by private individuals outside of official religious circles as well as within the precincts of the major temples in Egypt. Our first evidence of this celebration is from the 4th Dynasty, making it one of the oldest in ancient Egypt. The original date of the festival was set according to the lunar basis and this was never discarded. Hence, during the historical period, there were actually two separate Wagy feasts, one set according to the cycle of the moon and a later one firmly placed at day eighteen of the first civil month.
The Festival of Opet:
Centered in Thebes, this boisterous festival was held in the second civil month and was set according to a lunar calendar. It was perhaps not as old a celebration as some of the other feasts, though during the New Kingdom particularly, the celebration of Opet was predominate. Its duration of twenty-seven days in the 20th Dynasty shows how significant the celebration became. However, we know virtually nothing about the celebration prior to the 18th Dynasty and the rise of Thebes.
Theban citizens and their guests from afar celebrated the fruitful link between their pharaoh and the almighty god, Amun, who in the New Kingdom became a state god. During the celebration it was thought that the might and power of Amun were ritually bequeathed to his living son the king. Therefore, the celebration belonged to the official royal ideology of the state and, not surprisingly, witnessed the personal involvement of the pharaoh.
Because of the flooding, work was temporarily suspended in fields. The people
joined in a dramatic procession honoring
Amun that began at the
Temple of Amun
Karnak and ended at
Luxor Temple one and a half miles away at
the south end of the city. At
Karnak, the people watched the high
priests disappear in the temple. Inside,
the priests bathed the image of the god and dressed him in colorful linen and
adorned him with jewelry from the temple treasury including magnificent
necklaces, bracelets, scepters, amulets and trinkets of gold or silver encrusted
with lapis lazuli, enamel, glass and semi-precious gems. The priests then
enclosed the god in a shrine and then placed the shrine on top of a ceremonial
Braque or boat, often supported by poles for carrying.