A Coptic Engagement Party in Cairo

The drive from Dahab is Cairo is epic, so you have to have a good reason before going on this journey. Ten hours overland, through barren, flat desert of the Sinai, with slow-downs at the many checkpoints that help keep travelers safe, down into the Suez Canal by way of the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel, which connects the continent of Asia to the continent of Africa and, finally, a couple hours later, on into Cairo. I’ve made this trip several times, but last weekend I had the best reason of all. My friend Abu Nelio had invited me to a Coptic engagement party in Cairo!

Coptic couple getting engaged

In the Middle East, Christians don’t get engaged privately on a park bench or while canoeing in a pond somewhere. They throw a party for family and friends to actually observe them getting engaged by a priest.

Upon my exhausted arrival in Cairo at 3:30 Saturday morning, I spent my first night at the home of Abu Nelio’s mother, Shukria. Upon hearing my name, Sabina, she immediately gave me a new nickname – Sabona, which means soap in Arabic. I like this nickname so I’m happy that it’s stuck. Sunday afternoon, I made an approximately one-hour journey from my hotel near Tahrir Square across Cairo to Ain Shams where the party was to be.

This was actually my second Middle Eastern Christian engagement party, my first initiation into the rite being at a party in Ramallah, West Bank in 2011. This time around, I got to not only go to the party but to the beauty salon with the ladies beforehand.

Joseph's sister Sabah and her husband and son

Afaf and Nasra at the beauty salon

And this time, unlike last time, I’m allowed to share my photos of the people who made the party happen.

When I arrived at the beauty salon, everyone had already gotten their hair done, except for the woman to be engaged, Nasra, who was receiving the finishing touches. Shortly after I walked in the door, a woman asked me if I wanted a henna tattoo and I, of course, said yes.

Henna tattoo on my hand

Once Nasra’s hair and make-up were finished, all of the approximately 20 women and girls at the salon piled into the hallway, where we waited for the engagement party vehicles to pick us up. I traveled by minivan along with a couple dozen other people, while the soon-to-be-bethrothed arrived at the enagement hall by private car. The hall was attached not to a Coptic church in this case but a Catholic church, although the betrothed are Coptic. Once arrived, the couple waited inside the car while guests and a professional photographer and videographer filmed them.

Nasra and Reda in the car, about to go in to the party

Immediately upon arriving inside the hall, Nasra and the man to whom she was to become engaged, Reda, walked slowly and ceremoniously to the front of the hall and sat on a dais. Minutes later, a Coptic priest arrived. The engagement was about to occur.

Coptic priest engaging a Chrisitan couple in Cairo

In a Coptic engagement there are three biblical entities represented. The priest represents Jesus. He is accompanied by one or more people dressed in white, who represent angels. The rest of the people at the party represent themselves, God’s people.

The priest then led the group in prayer, part of which was spoken and part of which was sung. The priest asked questions and made statements to the “angels,” the couple and the rest of the group, to which they would respond. Asking if the couple wanted to become engaged, the couple said yes. The priest told the couple they must take care of each other, and instructed them to lead a good, Christian life.

Finally, Nasra and Reda placed rings on each other’s ring fingers. They were engaged!

A Coptic couple with their rings on their fingers,

The now engaged couple resumed their spots on the dais, where they remained the rest of the night, periodically joining in the dance party on the floor.

Nasra and Reda dance immediately after getting engaged

Men dancing at the Coptic engagement party

Dancing

Abu Nelio, his sister Sabah and her son and mother Shukria

Bob and his daughter Lidia

After an hour or so, I noticed Abu Nelio was missing and set out to find him. Where was he? He was in a little room off of the engagement hall, preparing the food. He wasn’t the only one there. His brother Abu Lidia and a couple of other men dove in to help. Yes, it was all men who prepared the food and drinks for the party, while the women danced the night away.

Jo and bob preparing the food at the engagement party

Barely interrupted by the refreshments served, the adults and children continued to dance the night away. In the Arab world, men usually dance with men and women dance with women, although there are exceptions to this.

I absolutely love watching the moves of Arab dancers, so very unlike Western dance moves. I can’t really describe their moves because I don’t know anything about dance but I can say that watching them caused me to come to the conclusion that the way people dance in the Western world is extremely boring.

Red and other men dancing at the party

It’s the last song of the night, Abu Nelio, said, as he heard the beginning of the only slow song that was played all evening. And that was it. The guests filed out of the party hall slowly, and the party was over. And it was the end of the best time I have ever had in Cairo.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Looks like it was fun times! I have to agree with you about the dancing – its so much fun to watch and ours is so boring in comparison!
    Elle of Solo Female Nomad recently posted..Solo Female Travel MisconceptionsMy Profile

  2. Sabina says:

    Hi, Elle! I’m happy to meet another solo female traveler/nomad :) The engagement party was a great night, and the best time I’ve ever had in Cairo.

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