Christmas in Egypt

Happy New Year

Christmas was different in Egypt, for all sorts of reasons. At the time we were there it was close to Ramadan on two consecutive years. Ramadan is celebrated on the ninth month of the Muslim year and their calendar is different from our Roman one. Muslims have to fast from sunrise to sunset. Each country celebrates this religious event in a different way but in Egypt it was party central. As soon as sun set everyone crowded restaurants, ate delicious meals at home and stayed up all hours. We all dreaded the festival because, quite naturally, everyone was a tad grumpy while fasting. They had also eaten too much and slept too little making the driving more chaotic than usual.

Most households light little blue glass Ramadan lanterns which were hung from balconies. As it was approaching Christmas it gave Cairo a festive feel. We lived on the edge of the city at that time, close to the desert, and on a cold winter night you could see the stars so brightly in the sky. It was endlessly fascinating because we were in a different position of the world, as was our view of the constellations. There is a large minority of Coptic Christians who are believed to be the original Christians. They have their own Pope who I had the privilege of seeing at the airport. They celebrate Christianity in a more Orthodox manner and Christmas Day is on January 7th. So we had three festivals one after the other – it was a wonder the country functioned…

One crisp cool night, I remember looking up at the stars and thinking how close we were to the place of Jesus’ birth. Did it look, smell and sound similar? It was as close as I was going to get to the Holy Land as your passport could not have both Israeli and Middle-Eastern stamps on it. My husband had two separate passports to travel on for work. The desert has a magical feel, especially in the winter. It can reach almost freezing but warms up dramatically during the day. You can easily image djinns or genies as the westerners say. Our Egyptian friend who was a strict Muslim still believed in djinns and thought to them with some fear. In general Egyptians were superstitious especially if they were Bedouin and many were.

One Christmas party I met an Algerian lady who was very pretty with brown eyes and blonde hair. Her brown eyes came from her French Algerian mother but her blonde hair came from her blonde, blue eyed Berber farther. Apparently it is quite common – Vikings, I assume? I would have loved to have visited Algeria and Berber villages but it was just too dangerous especially in the middle of the Gulf War. Most of the expats left Cairo desperately at Christmas time to have some normality at home but we had nowhere to go and the flights were expensive. It was really quite nice spending the holidays in such an exotic place.

One more opportunity to market my book –Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan.

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24 thoughts on “Christmas in Egypt

  1. Lovely, really felt the atmosphere. I lived in an area of Brussels which was full of Muslim bakeries etc. I loved how the atmosphere changed at Ramadan and the bakers would stay open all night to sell freshly-cooked bread

    Liked by 3 people

  2. It’s been a long time since we celebrated Christmas in the ‘traditional’ way. In rural France it’s very low-key – the French save their celebrating for New Year’s Eve – and there is no Boxing day. Street decorations are quite minimalist. In the villages they are usually limited to branches of evergreens tied to pillars and decorated with coloured ribbons, and inflatable Father Christmas climbing drainpipes or forcing their way through windows, although over the last few years twinkly electric street lights have become more in evidence. We don’t get any of the frantic shopping or feasts that we knew in England.

    When we lived in Kenya it was far too hot at Christmas to want to eat a huge turkey meal. It was more likely to be a curry, and Kenya curries are the best. 🙂

    However you spend your Christmas, may it be a good one for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a fascinating experience… it might have been great to see how many different cultures get along there…
    It is the first time I heard of Coptic Christians and the fact that they celebrate Christmas Day on January 7th, being Christmas Eve on january 6th…
    I searched that online and it seems that Western countries adopted the Julian calendar created under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45 BC…
    On the other side, Eastern countries, use the Gregorian calendar proposed by Latin Pope Gregory of Rome in 1582,
    Plus, December 25 on the Julian calendar actually falls on January 7 on the Gregorian calendar
    That´s why the dates differ…. because of teh different calendars..
    Great post, my friend… Merry Christmas and all my best wishes to you. Aquileana 🎄

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You were not only given a gift to recall and write, your ability to engage the reader very quickly is what I think they call… Talent.
    If an article or a book takes its time to peak my interest, I’ll put it down.
    I don’t really remember how we ran into each other, but I’m glad we did. I enjoy reading your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved this post, Kerry! I lived in Kuwait in the middle east as a child, and remember Ramadan very well. In Kuwait it was just as you describe. I also remember the desert and the heat, and visiting the bedouin in the desert. They had those big open black tents, and camels, and they had Mercedes parked outside cos they were oil rich. Happy Christmas to you!

    Liked by 1 person

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