Ways To Celebrate Coptic Christmas In The Middle East
What is Coptic Christmas?
Over 10 million Christians live in Egypt, which is 15% of the Egyptian population. However, unlike the usual Christians who celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, the Orthodox Coptic communities, who are over 90% of Egyptian Christians, celebrate on the 7th of January. The Coptic Christmas generated in Egypt because it follows the Coptic calendar, that is derived from an ancient Egyptian calendar.
Coptic Christmas Traditions
On the 6th of January or Coptic Christmas Eve, Copts all around the Middle East go to church for a religious ceremony. The church services typically commence later at night, around 10:30 Cairo time, and some open a little earlier than usual for people to pray. The ceremony is usually over by midnight, but some sometimes stay in the chapel till 4:00am.
Coptic Christmas day is preceded by 43 days of fasting, which is why when the Christmas service ends people go home to indulge in an immense Christmas feast. The popular dish for the feast is Fata, which is a lamb soup with rice, bread, garlic and pieces of lamb soaked in it.
Not all eat Fata but the meal has to have meat, eggs, and butter – all the yummy things they didn’t eat during the Advent fast and of course, ‘Kahk’ for dessert; which people usually bring with them as common courtesy when invited to the party.
Where to celebrate in Egypt?
St. Samaan Monastery in the Manshiet Nasser district in Cairo is a hidden gem on most days of the year but on Coptic Christmas, it is packed with Christians and celebrations. The monastery is too beautiful that it will awaken your spiritual side just by gazing at its architecture!
Saint Pishoy Monastery, in Wadi El-Natrun, Beheira, Saint Pishoy Monastery lights up with the warm vibes of the people gathered to pray and worship. The place is filled with colored tiles and amazing decoration, the ceiling is a masterpiece alone.
The Hanging Church aka Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church is the oldest of the lot, as it goes back to the third century. The whole church is built on top of an old Babylon fortress, with its nave suspended above the passage, hence its name (literally “Al Mu’alaqa” in Arabic). The whole structure is an architectural wonder that lies in Old Cairo. It is the most popular church in Cairo, so Coptic Christmas will be festive there!
Worshipers go to the famous St. Mark’s Cathedral to say their prayers while being mesmerized by the Cathedral’s beauty. While the adults whisper their prayers, the children stare in awe at the chandeliers and stained-glass windows of the cathedral. There’s also another St. Mark’s cathedral in Alexandria that is just as beautiful.
Church of Saint George in Coptic Cairo is another Greek masterpiece that always has a big crowd during Coptic Christmas. It also dates back to the 10th century but still brings people together till this day!
Egypt, however, will be celebrating Christmas in the New Administrative Capital’s church and it is called the “Cathedral of the birth of Christ.” It will be the largest church in the Middle East, and it is located east of the exhibition project EXPO, south of the central park in the new capital. Orascom Company is responsible for the implementation of the Church under the supervision of the engineering body Egyptian Armed Forces.
Where to Celebrate in UAE?
More than 1,000 Egyptian Christians from across Abu Dhabi fill the capital’s Coptic Church ‘Saint Joseph Church’ to celebrate Christmas Eve. The church has two grand halls that overflow with Egyptian worshippers that long to feel connected to their spiritual parts.
Where to celebrate in Palestine?
Thousands of Christians from the eastern tradition gather in the city of Bethlehem, Palestine for Christmas Eve celebrations, with a procession to the site where Jesus is believed to have been born. They mostly gather at the Coptic Convent and Orthodox Church of St. Mary, which is located in a natural cave.
Where to celebrate in Lebanon?
Due to the few number of Orthodox Christians in Lebanon, there’s only one church in Jisr Al-Basha, known as ‘St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox church’. So if you want to celebrate orthodox Christmas in Lebanon, this is the place to be!