We all love the trees, carols, lights and gifts of Christmas – and in Egypt, Christmas is twice as nice. Even though the country has a Muslim-majority population, Egypt comes together to celebrate this special Christian holiday. But with many different Christian denominations, including Coptic Orthodox Christians, Christmas in Egypt gets to be celebrated twice, on both December 25th and January 7th. Read on to find out why!
Why is Christmas celebrated twice in Egypt?
In some branches of the Christian church, like Orthodox Christians, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th – and also January 7th. This is all thanks to different translations of calendars. Orthodox Christians use the older Julian Calendar which marks Christmas Day as January 7th. Meanwhile, other Christians use the Gregorian Calendar which celebrates Christmas Day on December 25th.
There are over 10 million Christians in Egypt, making up around 10% of the country’s population. Of all the Christians in Egypt, over 90% are Coptic Orthodox Christians, who celebrate Christmas on January 7th. That’s why this important day is a national holiday in Egypt, and why Christmas is also celebrated on December 25th in Egypt by other Christian denominations.
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Are there any differences between the two Christmases?
Whether you celebrate on December 25th or January 7th, Christmas remains the same at its core – a Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in Egypt, there are few distinctions between their two Christmases. Egyptian culture is woven through the Coptic Christmas, with unique traditions that make it slightly different from the Western Christmas.
The biggest difference between Coptic Christmas and Western Christmas is the act of fasting. Coptic Christians take part in ‘The Holy Nativity Fast’ where they must adhere to a strict vegan diet for 43 before Christmas (Advent) from November 25th to January 6th. This means they can’t consume any animal-based products like meat, eggs and milk. After fasting for over a month, the Christmas feast is held on Christmas Eve. It’s definitely one of the most highly anticipated parts of the Christmas holiday!
The Christmas Feast
The Coptic Christmas dinner is basically like the typical Western Christmas dinner, but with more traditional Egyptian dishes. The grand centerpiece is usually the Christmas turkey, surrounded by all kinds of scrumptious side dishes.
At a Coptic Christmas dinner, you’ll also likely find the beloved fatteh (an indulgent, rice, bread and meat dish) and wara’ einab (vine leaves). Families go all out to prepare their best dishes to enjoy after breaking the fast, and it’s a very special occasion.
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You’re probably familiar with the tradition of leaving gifts under the Christmas tree to open on Christmas Day. Gift-giving is an Egypt Christmas tradition too – but it’s done a bit differently here.
Some Christians in Egypt give each other presents on Christmas Day, and also like to decorate their homes and streets with Egyptian Christmas trees and ornaments. There’s even an Egyptian Santa, called Baba Noël (meaning Father Christmas), who climbs through the window to leave presents for the children in exchange for some Kahk el Eid (traditional sweet biscuits).
However, Coptic Christians don’t follow this tradition. Instead of gift-giving, Coptic Christian families will give money to the younger members of the family on Christmas Eve (January 6th). This is a popular tradition that’s done on most other Egyptian holidays too. On the Coptic Christmas Day (January 7th), friends and family gather in homes for the festivities, and people usually give out the sweet Kahk as gifts. For any Christian in Egypt, Christmas morning usually means a cup of tea with a plate of Kahk el Eid.
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Christmas church services
Church services are one of the most important parts of both the Coptic Christmas and Western Christmas. While many Christians attend a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (December 24th), Coptic Christians also attend a special late-night church service on their Christmas Eve (January 6th). The service usually starts around 10pm and goes on until after midnight. Some even last until dawn!
Coptic Christians also attend special services during the month before Christmas, the fourth Coptic month known as Kiahk. Along with the usual Sunday Service, they’ll visit their church on Saturday nights to single special songs of praise, or ‘Kiahk tunes’.
Overall, Christmas is Christmas no matter what day you celebrate it on, or where you celebrate it. The spirit of Christmas – coming together with family to give thanks to God and enjoy a special feast – is universal. In Egypt, you just get to enjoy it twice!
Have you ever celebrated Christmas in Egypt? Let us know in the comments below!