Coptic Christmas 2018 and 2019
As the Coptic Church, like other Eastern Orthodox churches, follows the Julian instead of Gregorian calendar, Christmas comes on January 7th instead of December 25th.
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Anticipation of Christmas begins 43 days earlier on November 25th, which is Advent. During this period, Egyptian Christians avoid all meat and meat products. It is known as the “Holy Nativity Fast.”
When January 6th arrives, Coptic Christmas Eve, people head to church for a Christmas vigil, often wearing a new set of clothes. The climax of the evening comes at midnight, when Christmas Day has officially arrived. At that point, the church bells ring, and the service often ends promptly. In some cases, however, the service continues for several more hours.
After service, worshipers head home and eat a special meal called a “fata.” It will consist of rice, bread, garlic, eggs, butter, and some sort of boiled meat, usually boiled lamb. The fast has finally come to an end. People will also exchanges gifts and visit family and friends. It is traditional to give “kaik,” a kind of shortbread to your hosts and to wash it down with “shortbat,” a special Christmas beverage.
This is the religious side of Christmas in Egypt. However, the holiday has become commercialised in recent years and is even kept by non-Christians in a secular way. You may well see Christmas trees, lights, and Baba Noel, “Father Christmas,” as you roam through Cairo, Alexandria, and other major Egyptian cities.
Should you be in Egypt in early January, here are some ideas on what to do:
- Attend Coptic Christmas services at the headquarters of the Coptic Church, at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. The “Coptic pope” will give a Christmas message, and you will see how Coptic Christians welcome Christmas Day at the stroke of midnight.
- Tour Cairo and other cities to see the Christmas decorations. There will be nativity scenes, festive lights displays, Christmas trees if full decor, and plenty of shops selling Baba Noel hats. Christmas shopping in Egypt will be a unique experience, especially to those not used to doing it after New Year’s Day has already come and gone.
- Go on a Nile cruise, often from Luxor to Aswan, traveling upstream. As most of Egypt’s population has ever lived along the banks of the Nile, numerous monuments, temples, and historic sites are within easy eyeshot of a river boat. You can catch panoramic views of the river and the shoreline, disembark on occasion to explore, swim, snorkel, and enjoy the sun at the beach in El Gouna, and see the Temple of Isis at Aswan.
Egypt is full of endless tourist attractions, and touring it during Coptic Christmas adds yet more items to your itinerary, while introducing you to Coptic cultural traditions.