Christmas in Egypt
Members of the ancient Coptic Orthodox branch of the Christian faith make up about seven percent of Egypt’s population. They celebrate Christmas on January 7 (see also Old Christmas Day). The Coptic Orthodox Church encourages believers to fast for some or all of Advent as a means of preparing themselves for the celebration of the Nativity. In Egypt Coptic Christians fast by refraining from eating during the daylight hours and by abstaining from meat, eggs, and dairy products during the fasting period. On Christmas Eve the faithful attend midnight services held in Coptic churches. The most famous of these services takes place in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo and is presided over by the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The families return home afterwards to break their fast and distribute gifts and new clothes to their children. Egypt’s Coptic Christians also bake a special cookie, called kahk, in the shape of a cross as a Christmas treat. Egyptian Muslims use the same recipe for the cookies they bake for Id-al-Fitr, an important Muslim feast that breaks the month-long fast of Ramadan.
In January of 2003, Christmas (January 7) was observed as a national holiday in Egypt. This was the first time in the history of modern Egypt that a Christian holy day was formally recognized by the government. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak issued a presidential decree authorizing the observance, making it the nation’s eighteenth legal holiday.