Ancient Egyptian Festivals

The Egyptians loved to celebrate, and they loved to have festivals that would celebrate their love for their gods.

Since the ancient Egyptians knew that their gods were always present and doing things for them, such as Ra raising the sun, Khonsu traveling across the night sky bringing the moon at night, Bes allowing babies to be born and so on, the people did daily worship to these gods, but not formal worshipping or weekly worshiping at the temples, but these formal worships were in the form of festivals.

These festivals were written in calendars and they were found written in scrolls and inside of temples with a detailed list of what the dates were and what was supposed to happen at the festivals.

The festivals were an exciting time of the year and they were celebrated with games, food, banquets, parties, people would set up and sell food, banners were hung, music was played, there were parades and most of the time, the priests would wear bird and animal masks and parade around the festival, representing their love for their gods.

Many times, female musicians would shake rattles as they marched around the festival.  As the festivals came to an end, the high priest would take the food to the temple gates and pass out food to those that had attended the festival for those days.

The festivals would celebrate the different things that the gods did and oftentimes the people that attended the festival would carry around statues of the gods and “introduce” them to other statues, letting them meet up with the different gods.

These times of gathering were used for times of formal worship letting the people express their thanks and admiration and ask for favors from the gods formally.

The ancient Egyptians festivals also reminded people how the world worked and how the earth operated, and that the gods controlled everything, only allowing the priest and the King to have more power than the other people, just not as much as the gods.

The festivals would require the people to bring different offerings, depending on what the festival was, and most of the time, the King had to give money in order for the festival to be able to be had.

Throughout Egyptian history, priests were responsible for planning and opening the festivals and making sure that everything was right before the festival would start.

Most of the festivals were held on certain dates and they followed what was called the civil calendar.  These festivals went for a certain number of days and were celebrated each year by the people.

Many of the festivals celebrated something such as the Ramesses III Festival, which celebrated Ramesses for having victory of the Libyans.  This yearly festival was to celebrate this person, while other festivals celebrated gods or the birth of the land.

The Wepet-renpet or “Sothis” was called “opener of the year,” and was the New Years celebration.  This celebration took place following the flood of the Nile River, which the Egyptians knew when this would happen.  This celebration happened each year and was considered a huge celebration and the rebirth of the land.

Other festivals include the Feast of Wagy, the Festival of Opet, which celebrated the link between the Pharaoh’s and the gods, and at this festival, the people of Egypt could ask the gods yes and no questions.  They used a barge to give the answer.

If the barge tipped forward, the answer was “yes,” and if the barge backed away, the answer was, “no.”  The Festival of Choiak or Sokar celebrated the first season and celebrated the god Osiris.  There was a Festival of Fertility, celebrating the god Min, Heb-Sed which celebrated the King, Festival of the Potters Wheel, Rebirth Celebration of Nehebkau, and more, being around 30-50 festivals in one years’ time.

List of Festivals

  • New Years Day (Wep-renpet)
  • Wag Festival
  • Opet Festival
  • Sokar Festival
  • Min Festival
  • The Festival of the Fertility god Min.
  • The Beautiful Feast of the Valley.
  • Heb-Sed Festival.

Wepet-Renpet Festival:

On New Years’ day in ancient Egypt, this celebration was held in honor of the death and rebirth of Osiris. Like other festivals in Ancient Egypt, it lasted for days with feasting and drinking. It also included dancing and singing and was an essential part of the Egyptian calendar.

Wag Festival

This festival was to honor the souls of the deceased as they made their journey into the afterlife. Held 17 days after New Year’s Day it’s one of the oldest festivals celebrated by the Egyptians. It was first started in the old Kingdom, just like the New Year’s Day festival. During the festival, the local people will make small boats out of paper and let them float down the river Nile.

Opet Festival:

This festival lasted 20 days. It started in the Middle Kingdom, but because it was so popular was also celebrated in the new Kingdom of Egypt. The People of Egypt were to observe the priest dressing and washing the statue of Amun it was then carried through the streets for the people to see. This statue was then transported to the Luxor temple, where the King took it into the inner sanctum to look for forgiveness of any sins so he could continue his reign as King.

Sokar Festival

According to ancient history, Sokar was the god of agriculture, and they named this festival after him. However, this was back in the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt. Later it was merged with the Khoiak Festival to honor Osiris. A somber celebration, celebrated over six days with the planting of crops to honor Sokar and agriculture.

Nehebkau Festival:

Starting day one of Month five after the Sokar Festival, this is to celebrate Nehebkau. Nehebkau was the god who united the ka (soul) to the khat (body) at birth and later attached the ka to the ba after death.

The fifth Month had its own New Year’s day of celebrating rebirth, occurring just five days after the death of Osiris. This festival was in ways similar to the Wepet-Renpet Festival of the New.

Min Festival

The Min Festival was to celebrate Min, the god of fertility. It first started in the Predynastic Period and was most likely also celebrated during the Early Dynastic Period. Similar to the Opet Festival, the priests carried a statue of Min out of the temple into the streets where it was celebrated by singers and dancers. The festival did not only did honor God Min but also the King in the hope that he would continue his reign and bring fertility to all the land and health to all the people.

The Beautiful Feast

The Beautiful Feast was a Festival in ancient Egypt to celebrate the dead and took place between the harvest and the Nile flood. It honored the souls of the deceased and allowed the living and dead to celebrate together. It was the Egyptian version of the day of the dead, which is a festival in Mexico. They took the statue of the god Amun to the temple of Luxor to visit the mortuary temples. People brought flowers, food, and drink offerings to their departed loved tombs in celebration.

Heb-Sed Festival

Heb-Sed Festival was to celebrate and honor the king. Unusually it was only held every 30 years of the king’s reign. This was to ensure that he was still healthy and able to rule and in harmony with the will of the gods and the people. To show that he was still physically fit the king needed to run around an enclosed space so people can still see he was powerful and was still able to rule over all of the lands.

The Festival probably dates from the Predynastic Period

Facts about Ancient Egyptian Festivals:

  • The Wepet-Renpet Festival celebrated the death and rebirth of Osiris and celebrated the rebirth of the land and the people.
  • Beer was an important drink at the festivals and those that attended the festivals would drink beer and play sacred drums.
  • Wag Festival celebrated those that have already went to the afterlife.
  • Wag and Thoth Festival celebrated Thoth who brought about writing, knowledge and wisdom.
  • The Opet Festival is one of the most important festivals because it gives the king strength and power, renewing him from the prior year.
  • During many festivals, the people can ask the gods questions through the priest, who gives their answer according to what the gods say.
  • The Bast Festival celebrates the goddess Bastet who was a cat and the guardian of homes, women, children and women’s secrets.
  • The Nehebkau Festival celebrates the god Nehebkau who bound the Ka with the Ba after death.
  • The Wadi Festival was for the dead so that they could come and celebrate at the festival with those that are alive.

Q and A

  • Q: Why did the Egyptians want to have festivals?
    A: The Egyptians wanted to have festivals so that they could show love to their gods.
  • Q: Did the Egyptians come together weekly or daily to show group worship to the gods?
    A: The Egyptians did not come together weekly or daily to worship, they only worshiped together during the festivals.
  • Q: Who would pay for the festivals?
    A: The people would bring offerings to the festivals that would help, but the king was required to pay for most of the festival.
  • Q: Who was in charge of the festivals?
    A: The priest, even though they were in charge of the temple and getting bodies ready in the afterlife, they were also responsible for the festivals and making sure that everything was perfect.
  • Q: Were the people able to “speak” to the gods at the festivals?
    A: The people were able to ask questions to the gods, either yes or no questions or questions through the priest.
  • Q: What did most festivals celebrate?
    A: Most of the festivals celebrated the gods and what the gods had done for the people.