We would like to use the Christmas season as a reason to invite you to a very special exotic trip. Since we receive our goods (costumes, veils, shoes, jewelery, etc.) from suppliers from all over the world, we would like to take you with us on a tour through the countries of origin of our goods, of belly dancing itself and of the oriental culture. This is why we put together a very special Christmas gift for you. It contains information on the different international Christmas traditions and on the ways Christmas is celebrated in countries abroad. It goes without saying that we focus on the countries of the Orient and Asia. This is why we would like to introduce you to Christmas in India, Egypt and Turkey. Please accompany us on an exciting tour through international Christmas traditions and let yourself be carried away by the pleasant anticipation filling the air before Christmas.
Since 2002 Christmas is an official holiday in Egypt. It is, above all, celebrated by Copts, a Christian community in Egypt. However, the Copts do not celebrate Christmas on December 24th but on January 7th. Since the Copts celebrate Christmas on the 29th day of the Coptic month Khiakh and use the Coptic Calendar for their computation of time, Christmas day is on January 7th.
Legend says that the origins of the Coptic Church can be traced back to Mark, the author of the Gospel according to Mark. He is said to have brought Christianity to Egypt and to have founded the Coptic Church. The Copts even have their own pope who is always supposed to be a descendant of Mark. The current pope, Shenuda III, is supposed to be the 117th descendant of Mark.
Before the actual Christmas celebrations start on January 7th, the Copts celebrate a 43 days long fasting period. It starts on November 25th and ends on January 6th. During this time the Copts are not allowed to eat any food of animal origin (no milk, meat, eggs, etc.). Thereby they commemorate Moses who spent 40 days waiting on the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God. The other three days are dedicated to the miracle of Mount El Mokattam which was moved by God’s hand.
The fasting period ends with a big banquet on Christmas Day. Traditional food such as Zalabya, a kind of pastry, and Bouri, a fish dish, are served. Kahk, a traditional sweet which is also made by Muslims to celebrate Eid el fitr, is also part of the big Christmas dinner. The children receive sweets and small gifts. Often times, children receive the traditional El’aida, a small amount of money which they are allowed to spend to buy sweets. Small concerts with Coptic and international music take place everywhere.
Traditionally, Coptic families go to church on Christmas Day. The mess starts at around eleven o’clock at night and ends at about four o’clock in the morning. A traditional custom of many Egyptian Christians is to visit several churches on this day which are said to be situated on the Holy Family’s travelling way through Egypt. The biggest church service is held in Cairo at St. Mark’s Cathedral by the Coptic pope. It is broadcasted on TV all over Egypt.
However, not only Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas in Egypt. Many tourists like to travel to Egypt and spend Christmas under the warm sun and palm trees. This is why many hotels decorate their halls and rooms according to the Christmas tourism. You can find artificial snow and trees covered with ice in the big entrance halls.
Many Muslims are affected by the Christmassy atmosphere, too. Even though they do not celebrate Christmas in the Christian way of celebrating it, they still like to join the festivities. The other way around many Egyptian Christians do also celebrate the Muslim holidays. Here you can find one of the most interesting aspects of Egyptian life: the peaceful coexistence of different religions.
By the way:
The Christmas tree has its origins in Egypt. Its original form was not a fir tree but a palm tree. The Egyptians used a twelve-leaved palm tree as a symbol for the end of a year. Since palm trees grow a new palm branch each month, every single branch stood for a completed month.
This custom was exported to Europe where people started to use different kinds of trees. The fir tree was especially popular due to its pyramid-shaped form. In former times it was decorated with lights to honor Saturn during the period of the winter solstice. Later, the custom was taken over by Christianity.