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.