Coptic Christmas is celebrated by some Orthodox Christians every year on the 7th of January, which is different from the worldwide Christmas celebration on the 25th of December. The Julian calendar sets the date, which pre-dates the Gregorian calendar used by other Christians. The day reflects healing and inner peace and is celebrated by many Orthodox Christians worldwide, 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 celebrates the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, who Christians believe to be the Son of God and Savior of the world. Although the exact date of Christ's birth is unknown, the Gospel of St. Matthew says it occurred during Herod the Great's reign. Most people celebrate Christ's birth on December 25, but some, following traditional practices, observe it on January 7 each year.
Coptic Christmas, also known as Old Christmas Day, is celebrated on January 8. In 1952, England and Scotland, for example, switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, but the people who did not accept this shift continued celebrating it on January 7. The January 7th date was valid between 1901 and 2100, but since 2101, Coptic Christmas has been celebrated one day later.
The Coptic Month Before Christmas
The Coptic month before Christmas is called kick and is observed for 43 days from November 25 to January 6. During this time, Christians eat extraordinary food, which is all vegetarian. They stay away from consuming animal products during this time. The particular fast is called The Holy Nativity Fast, where prayers are done for the weak. On Coptic Christmas Eve, people go to church for a specific service. This is 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 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 become very commercialized, where anyone can easily buy Christmas decorations, food, and trees. Many places see unique decorations for this festival. Santa in Egypt is called Baba Noel, meaning Father Christmas. Children await 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 Advent fast 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 'urban,' which means 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 called Fata, mainly 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!