By Kareem Korayem

ThoughEgypthas a majority Muslim population, Christmas is still a very important holiday in the country, celebrated by both Muslims and Christians. The holiday gains a special importance as well because of the time the “Holy Family” spent in the country with the infant Jesus.

Many Muslims may not celebrate the holiday in full, but instead pick and choose certain aspects of the holiday to celebrate, in much the same way Christians join in the celebrations of major Muslim holidays. In my family for example, we would always have a Christmas tree with gifts at Christmas yet we would not celebrate the actually birth of Christ.

The Egyptian Christian church is Coptic Orthodox which means that Egyptian Copts celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January rather than on the 25th, similar to the Russian Orthodox Christians. Copts believe that their first pope was Saint Mark who introduced Christianity intoEgyptand had his residency inAlexandria. Today, the Pope’s residence is inCairoand the service is held in the Coptic language in Saint Mark’s Cathedral.

During Christmas, though many people go shopping for the holiday, it is not as commercialised as in the West. I believe this is intentionally done by the Coptic community to keep the holiday special. While you will still find the streets covered in Christmas lights and belly dancing Santas in store fronts, but still, shops are nowhere nearly as crowded as you would imagine them to be. Most Christians do their Christmas shopping in special Christmas bazaars that donate their profits to charity organisations.

On Christmas Eve, people go to church wearing new clothes. The service lasts until midnight, though some services last till 4 am. People then go home usually to eat some Fata, a traditional Christmas meal which is made of bread, rice, garlic and beef. Though Fata might be a Christmas meal, it is also very popular with almost all Egyptians, including the one writing this article.