Mesopotamia: Holidays & Festivals

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson outlines some of the many different kinds of holidays and festivals ancient Mesopotamians engaged in. You'll also learn how they might have celebrated these festivals as well.

Religious Festivals

Do you celebrate holidays and festivals? Maybe you celebrate Christmas. Perhaps you enjoy New Years' festivities. And what do you do during these times? Do you light a candle and say a prayer? Do you go watch all sorts of cool performances?

None of this is any different, in the general sense, from ancient Mesopotamian holidays and festivals, which often (but not always) centered on religious themes tied in with nature. Let's learn more about them in this lesson.

Types of Festivals & Holidays

There were all sorts of different festivals and holidays in ancient Mesopotamia. Some were similar to our Thanksgiving. Others were a bit more esoteric by modern standards, like a festival devoted to sheep-shearing.

Some holidays had a religious but also practical side to them, such as when offerings of fruit and dairy from around Mesopotamia were made. This also allowed farmers from across Mesopotamia to exchange their goods at the same time.

Many festivals in ancient Mesopotamia revolved around a mythological drama of some sort, which could be reenacted by its believers in some cases.

As importantly, some of the most common types of festivals and holidays involved various days connected to the cycle of the phases of the moon. During the lunar month, Mesopotamians were given 6 holidays, where they took part in games and entertainment. They were also given 3 days for pure relaxation. And they were given 3 days for lunar festivals.

But the biggest festival was celebrated each New Year. Nope, on December 31st-January 1st. This ancient Mesopotamian New Year's Festival occurred during the first eleven days of Nisan. Nisan was the month associated with the spring equinox.

What Happened During the Festivals?

So how did people celebrate these festivals? Well, it kind of depends on exactly what the festival was about and when it took place.

Sometimes people prepared banquets inside of their home for the gods. In other cases, they lit religious fires inside their homes, like we might light a candle. They would, just like many religious people today, recite various lines of their religious beliefs as well.

But not all festivals were home-based. Today, many religious festivals are quite public. You know how some religions carry an icon or a statue of a divinity or saint in great processions during religious holidays? The same thing happened in ancient Mesopotamia, where people could watch similar elaborate ceremonies during important festivals in their cities.

Ancient Mesopotamians also people believed that the moon died every lunar month but then came back from the dead in a cyclical nature. Thus, on the day people believed the moon died, they made special offerings. During eclipses, people performed purification ceremonies in order to help ensure the moon remained untainted during an eclipse.

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