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New Year’s traditions in Ancient Egypt: Wepet Renpet

3 min read

In many countries around the world, New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1st with fireworks and festivities with family / friends the evening before.
But this is not the only type of New Year’s celebration and not everyone celebrates on January 1st.
In some articles, we’ll look at New Year’s traditions from around the world to understand the way different cultures celebrate the year to come.


Gods of the ancient Egyptians were always present to the people through natural events.
The sunrise was Ra emerging from the underworld in his great ship, for example, and the moon was the god Khonsu traveling across the night sky. When a woman became pregnant, it was through the fertility encouraged by Bes or Tawaret, and the Seven Hathors were present at the child’s birth to declare its destiny. Sycamore trees were sacred to Hathor and the home was protected by Bastet.

Ancient Egyptian culture was closely tied to the Nile River , and it seems their New Year corresponded with its annual flood.
According the Roman writer Censorinus, the Egyptian New Year was predicted when Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, first became visible after a 70-day absence. Better known as a heliacal rising, this event typically occurred in mid-July just before the annual inundation of the Nile River, which helped ensure that farmlands remained fertile for the coming year.
Egyptians celebrated this new beginning with a festival known as Wepet Renpet, which literally means “opening of the year.”
The New Year was seen as a time of rebirth and rejuvenation, and it was honored with feasts and special religious rites.
The festival celebrated the death and rebirth of Osiris, and by extension, the rejuvenation and rebirth of the land and the people. It is firmly attested to as initiating in the latter part of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613 – c. 3150 BCE) and is clear evidence of the popularity of the Osiris cult at that time.
Feasting and drinking were a part of this festival, as they were for most, and the celebration would last for days. Solemn rituals related to the death of Osiris were observed as well as singing and dancing to celebrate his rebirth.

Not unlike many people today, the Egyptians may have also used this as an excuse for getting a bit “joyful”.
Recent discoveries at the Temple of Mut showed that during the reign of Hatshepsut, the first month of the year played host to something like a “Festival of Drunkenness”, or Tekh Festival, a massive party tied to the myth of Sekhmet, a war goddess who had planned to kill all of humanity until the sun god Ra tricked her into drinking herself unconscious.
As story goes, Ra had become weary of people’s endless cruelty and nonsense and so sent Sekhmet to destroy them.
She took to her task with enthusiasm, tearing people apart and drinking their blood. Ra is satisfied with the destruction until the other gods point out to him that, if he wanted to teach people a lesson, he should stop the destruction before no one was left to learn from it.
Ra then orders the goddess of beer, Tenenet, to dye a large quantity of the brew red and has it delivered to Dendera, right in Sekhmet’s path of destruction. She finds it and, thinking it is blood, drinks it all, falls asleep, and wakes up as the gentle and beneficent Hathor.

In honor of mankind’s salvation, the Egyptians would celebrate with music, sex, revelry, and copious amounts of beer.


Images from web – Google Research

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