Merry Coptic Christmas from Egypt!

If you’re the type who is sorry to see Christmas end each year, you can come to Egypt and celebrate the holiday twice. Christians in Egypt, called Copts, make up about ten percent of the country’s population and, like Christians in some other countries such as Russia, they are orthodox. I learned shortly after arriving in Dahab a couple of months ago that orthodox Christians, including Copts, celebrate Christmas day not on December 25 as we do in most of the Christian world, but on January 7. I must have heard about this January Christmas earlier in my life, but the information didn’t stick. In the wee hours of this morning, though, I got to have Christmas dinner with a small group of Coptic Christians as well as Muslims, making it impossible to forget Coptic Christmas ever again.

It was a memorable time but, unlike Christmas in my home country, in Egypt this holiday doesn’t last six weeks, with trees, tinsel and mistletoe everywhere you look and millions of people going further into debt to buy gifts. This was a very toned down version of Christmas, with a sweet simplicity.

Taha and our Christmas Turkey, 2012

Taha and our Christmas turkey

I am told that a traditional Christmas for Coptic Christians consists of going to a midnight Christmas Eve mass, followed by a large meal, eaten either at some point the next day or immediately after returning home. No decorations, no caroling and no presents, except for sometimes gifts for children. My group didn’t go to the midnight service, instead arriving at Joseph and Annet’s apartment at that time. At 1:15 a.m. a turkey came out of the oven, we added heaps of rice and the traditional Arab salad of diced cucumbers and tomatoes and ate our Christmas dinner. Incidentally, this was the best turkey I’ve eaten in my life.

Christmas dinner of turkey, rice and salad in Dahab, Egypt

Mina and our middle-of-the-night Christmas dinner

With Arab music playing over the computer, courtesy of our impromptu DJ Mamdu, everyone drank a little Egyptian Sakara beer and talked for a while, until heading home about 2:30 am. Yes, this was the most unusual Christmas I’ve ever spent in my life, and not one I am ever going to forget.

Mamdu being our disc jockey for our Coptic Christmas 2012

Our Coptic Christmas DJ, Mamdu

8 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Alouise says:

    Merry Christmas. I think sometimes a simple celebration is the best ones of all.

  2. Sabina says:

    Merry Christmas to you too, Alouise. It was a great night :)

  3. Oh my how big is this turkey chicken ?? This is the first time i m seeing it !! well well i hope you enjoyed a lot in egypt !! I think that was your Christmas gift .. and belated new years wishes my friend !!

  4. Sabina says:

    I think you’re right, Sheril – Coptic Christmas in Egypt was my Christmas gift! As far as the turkey, I don’t know the actual size, but it amply fed a hungry party of eight :)

  5. Candice says:

    Oh I love it! Simple but meaningful. Can’t believe you ate turkey in the middle of the night!

  6. Steve says:

    That really is a memorable Christmas. It’s a simple, but really unique experience. I hope the food was as good as it looks in the photos.

  7. Sabina says:

    Oh, yeah. That’s actually the third middle-of-the-night meal I’ve had in Dahab in the past two months. That fact alone should speak volumes as to what kind of town this is :)

  8. Sabina says:

    It was SO good, Steve. Well worth staying up past 1:30 in the morning for :)

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