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Coptic Easter
Egypt

Coptic Easter 2018 and 2019

Coptic Easter is one of the holiest days on the Coptic Calendar, and it is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon that follows the vernal equinox.

YearDateDayHoliday
20188 AprSunCoptic Easter Sunday
201928 AprSunCoptic Easter Sunday

The Coptic Christians have their own calendar system, which has 12 months of 30 days and a final, “intercalary” month of five or six days, depending on leap year. This calendar is literally thousands of years old, predating the Coptic Church, and it is divided into three seasons associated with the Nile’s agricultural periods: Acht, the flood season; Bert, sowing time; and Shemmo, harvesting time. Each of these seasons is the occasion of special prayers and liturgical readings in the Coptic Church.

There are 210 days of fasting on the Coptic Calendar, more than for any other Christian tradition, but the 55-day, Lenten fast leading up to Easter is the longest Coptic fasting period. It is known as “the Great Fast,” and all animal products, including milk, butter, and cheese, are not to be eaten. Fasting, however, is not an all-day affair. It runs from midnight until 6pm. This greatest Coptic fast is followed by the greatest Coptic feast on Easter Sunday and Monday.

During Passion Week (Holy Week), between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, Coptic Christians pray daily at church and hear messages on the sufferings of Christ. On the Great Friday (Good Friday), all dress in black to mourn the death of Christ and drink vinegar to remember the vinegar offered to Christ as he died on the cross.

On Easter Eve (Holy Saturday), Coptic believers hold an Easter vigil until dawn on Easter Morning. The is known as “the Great Vigil,” and the ceremonies will involve a Resurrection play that centers on both the Resurrection and the Ascension. At the beginning, Heaven’s gates are shown shut tight and the room is kept dark to symbolize humanity’s fall into sin, but later, the light floods in as Christ is said to have risen, opened Heaven’s gate, and cleansed humanity of original sin. At dawn, the traditional greeting, “Christ is risen!” is exchanged with other congregants for the traditional response, “He is risen indeed!” During both Friday and Saturday, a full fast from both food and water is often done till the end of Easter vigil.

On Easter Sunday, large family dinners are served to break the long period of fasting. Fish, meat, eggs, cookies, biscuits, and “fatteh,” an dish with rice and other ingredients laid on top of a crispy flatbread, are common cuisine choices. New clothes are also bought and worn as Coptic Christians visit family members and friends at their houses.

Easter Monday is known as “Spring Day,” but in Arabic as “Sham al-Nessim.” Both Muslims and Christians celebrate Sham al-Nessim, but its origins are ancient Egyptian and Coptic tradition celebrates it differently than do Muslims. The ancient Egyptian festival originally fell in the middle of the Great Fast, preventing Christians from feasting on Spring Day. To solve this “problem,” the date was moved to the Monday right after Easter. Today, Spring Day is treated by Coptic Christians as if a “second Easter day,” but there are still rituals special to it, such as going to parks to eat mullet, a type of fish, green onions, and lupin, a vegetable in the pea family. Coloring boiled eggs also derives from pre-Christian times, but the eggs are now painted red to represent the blood of Christ.

Things to do

Anyone visiting Egypt will, of course, want to visit the world-famous pyramids, but three other stops you may wish to make, if in Egypt around Easter time, are as follows:

  • St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, where the “Coptic Pope” resides. The structure dates only from 1968 and has a massive, modernistic design. It is the largest cathedral in all of Africa and the Mid-East. Inside, you can view some of the claimed relics from the life of St. Mark. The Coptic Pope will also lead Easter services in the cathedral during Holy Week.
  • Old Cairo and Coptic Cairo. Old Cairo, and Coptic Cairo which forms a part of it, pre-date the Arab conquest of 969 A.D., and there are many ancient structures to behold. You can visit the Coptic Museum, the Convent of St. George, the Hanging Church, numerous other ancient Coptic churches, and the ruins of the Roman-era “Fort Babylon.”
  • The numerous beaches that are found on the Red Sea and the Mediterranean coast. Egypt has over 2,400 miles of coastline, and beautiful, blue waters, coral reefs, sightings of rare fish life, and of course, swimming await the tourist. On the Red Sea, majestic mountains tower in the background. On the Gulf of Aqaba, there are “ocean sports” facilities. On the Mediterranean, there are many popular beaches, including Safaga, Ras Sidr, and Dahab.