The Coptic Church, like other Eastern Orthodox churches, follows the Julian calendar instead of Gregorian calendar. Therefore, Christmas comes on 7 January each year instead of 25 December.
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Anticipation of Christmas begins 43 days earlier on 25 November, which is the beginning of Coptic Advent. During this period, Egyptian Christians avoid all meat and meat products. It is known as the “Holy Nativity Fast.”
When 6 January arrives (Coptic Christmas Eve), people go 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.