Coptic Christmas is celebrated by some Orthodox Christians on the 7th of January every year and is different from the worldwide Christmas celebration held on the 25th of December. The date is set by the Julian calendar which pre-dates the Gregorian calendar used by other Christians. The day reflects healing and inner peace and is celebrated by many Orthodox Christians around the world, including the Coptic Christians of Egypt.
A day before Coptic Christmas, most people observe a short fast and celebrate the day by feasting with friends and family members. The food most commonly eaten or served during this day includes nuts and fresh dried fruits, lenten bread, mushroom soup, vegetables and herbs like peas, potatoes and garlic, bobal’ki, slow-cooked kidney beans with garlic, potatoes and seasoning, baked cod, and honey.
Christmas is a day when the Lord Jesus Christ was born, who Christians believe was the Son of God and Savior of the world. Most think that the actual birth date of Jesus Christ is unknown due to the little information available. In the Bible, the Gospel of St. Matthew says that Christ was born during Herod the Great’s reign. The birth date of Jesus most people is celebrated on the 25th of December, but some as per the traditional info celebrate the same on January 7th, every year.
Coptic Christmas is also known as Old Christmas Day. In 1952 England and Scotland switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, for example., but the people who did not accept this shift continued celebrating it on January 7th. The January 7th date was valid between 1901 and 2100 but since 2101 Coptic Christmas must be celebrated on the 8th of January, one day later.
The Coptic Month Before Christmas
The Coptic month before Christmas is called kiahk and is observed for 43 days from 25th November to January 6. During this time Christians eat special food, which is all vegetarian. They stay away from consuming animal products during this time. The special fast is called The Holy Nativity Fast, where prayers are done for the weak. On Coptic Christmas Eve people go to church for a special service. This is the time when people meet up with friends at the church and the services usually go past midnight, at some places until 4 am. After the service, people enjoy a hearty meal of eggs, meat and butter, and everything else which they could not eat during the fast. One popular food is the “Fata’, which is lamb soup containing rice, bread, garlic, and boiled lamb meat. On Christmas day, people often give Kahk or special sweet biscuits as gifts to one another.
Even with a small population of Christians, Egypt celebrates Christmas like a major holiday, including some non-Christian Egyptians. The festival has now become very commercialized where anyone can buy Christmas decorations, food, and trees easily. Many places see special decorations for this festival. Santa in Egypt is called Baba Noel, meaning Father Christmas. Children wait for his arrival with gifts and even leave some Kahk for him. The forty days preceding Coptic Christmas are called the Advent season, during which people abstain from eating animal products and dairy food.
The special fast during the Advent season shows the devotion and self-control of all those who wish to participate in this special celebration. Egyptians attend church on the eve of this day dressed in new clothes. After the service, people gather for the special bread called ‘qurban’, meaning sacrifice. This Egyptian tradition differs from the Christian tradition of serving wine and bread.
Qurban bread has a Holy Cross in the center with 12 dots representing the 12 apostles of Christ. After this people have a special meal referred to as Fata, made mainly out of rice, bread, boiled meat, and garlic. In the morning, people visit friends and relatives, while exchanging Kaik, which is enjoyed with Sherbat, a special drink. According to historical legends, the Holy Family moved to Egypt to escape the evil King Herod ahead of the Nativity. During this time the churches here are decorated with lamps and candles. Coptic Advent and Christmas are wonderful times of the year!