Christmas Eve, a Christian holiday commemorating the eve of Jesus’ birth, is celebrated around the world on December 24.
There are a number of symbols and customs that usually accompany Christmas Eve. One of the most popular is the rooster mass or mass of the shepherds, which lasts 2 hours and ends exactly at midnight, to celebrate the birth of the child God.
Another interesting fact of this night is the exchange of gifts after midnight, as a symbolic representation of the delivery of gifts by the Three Wise Men to the little Jesus.
During this Christmas season, traditions and customs to celebrate this special date vary from one country to another. Among the most common Christian traditions are the decoration of the Christmas tree and the placement of the nativity scene.
Christmas cards are sent, traditional dishes are prepared for Christmas dinner, fasting, masses and gift-giving.
Few people will be unaware that the Holy Family, when the Child Jesus had just been born, lived in Egypt for almost four years. According to historical sources, in ancient times there were three paths to follow from Palestine to Egypt, but the Holy Family did not choose any of them. It walked from Bethlehem to Gaza and made its first stop in El-Farma, the destroyed city of ancient Egypt, located on the Sinai Peninsula. Fifty miles northwest of Cairo, the second stop was Tel Basta, where Jesus Christ brought forth a spring of water and where he was persecuted.
In their flight south, the family reached the town of Mostorod, just 10 kilometers from the Egyptian capital, which later became known as al–Mahamma. They continued to the village of Belbeis, 55 kilometers from Cairo, where the Virgin and Child are said to have rested under a tree, known since then as “the Tree of the Virgin Mary”. From Belbeis they left from the northwest towards Minyet Samannud, where they crossed the Nile towards Samannud.
The Holy Family reached the village of Sakha, where the footprint of Jesus is marked on a rock, and then headed towards Wadi Natrun, a place blessed by Jesus Christ and his mother. After leaving the desert they headed south to the city of Cairo, crossing the Nile River to the east and heading to the area of Matariah and Ain Shams.
This area is considered one of the most important areas and stops where the Holy Family has been. There are many churches and monasteries there. This area was blessed by the presence of the Holy Family, who could not stay there more than a few days, since the idols were broken, provoking the governor of Al-Fustat who wanted to kill the Child Jesus.
In the church of St. Sergius (Abu Sirga) is the cave in which the Holy Family took refuge. It is considered one of the most important monuments of the Holy Family in Old Cairo. We also highlight the Church of Al-Moallaqa, also known as the Church Suspended for supporting one of the towers of the ancient fortress of Babylon. This route is still possible today.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus is not celebrated in Egypt on December 25 but on January 7, a date equivalent to the 29th day of the Coptic month of “kiohk or Khiahk”, while in many other countries Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and Coptic Christmas will be celebrated on January 8 in relation to the Western calendar.
All Coptic feasts come after a period of fasting, this does not mean going completely without food for part of the day, but you can eat normally, but the type of food consumed is limited to products that do not use animals, therefore, meat, fish, eggs and milk are prohibited.
The fast before Christmas is called the “Lenten Fast”, and traditionally lasts for 43 days, celebrating the forty days associated with the fact that Moses received the Ten Commandments and the three days of fasting associated with the miracle of moving the mountain of El Mokattam, a purely Egyptian event.
This fast lasts from November 25 until January 6, although most people celebrate it after the New Year’s mass, which is when the Christmas celebrations begin in earnest. This is, of course, a time of great celebration, particularly during the last 30 days that make up the Coptic month of Khiahk, when the vacation season, choirs offer Christmas carol concerts, with a mixed program of international and Coptic music. Finally, on the big day of the celebrations, the traditional dinner includes a delicious Fatta dish, prepared with rice and, of course, meat.
Christmas in Egypt, Coptic Christmas is celebrated by a special midnight service in church, followed by the ringing of bells. Some Coptic Christians visit the churches, which are traditionally considered to be located on the route of the Holy Family, some of them decorated with colorful lamps, nativity scenes and angels. The largest service is held by the Coptic Pope at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo and takes place at 23:00 pm, being broadcast on Egyptian television; however, some services may last from 9:00 pm. to 4:00 am.
Take advantage of your stay in Cairo to enjoy and learn about these Coptic rites during the Christmas holidays. A great way to discover the culture of this people.
In Egypt a typical food of Christmas celebrations are gingerbread cookies and cookies called Ghryba, both recipes are simple to prepare and the result is worth it.
Another characteristic dish of these dates is called Fata, a preparation made with meat, rice and garlic, which is boiled; then on Christmas morning visitors bring a type of sponge cake called Kaik, which is eaten with a special drink called shortbat.
Keep in mind, if you visit these lands during the Christmas celebrations that traditionally during the 40 days before Christmas, no meat, poultry or dairy products are eaten, although nowadays very few people extend this diet for more than a week.
If you are thinking of spending a holiday in Egypt at Christmas, you may be surprised to see that Christian festivities are as present there as anywhere else in the world. Increasingly over the past few years, Egypt has begun to dress up for the year-end festivities, especially in places like the Coptic Quarter, but also at the airport to welcome visitors.
This is largely due to the fact that Egypt has become highly sought after as a Christmas destination, and most of the people who travel there to enjoy the end of the year come from a Christian tradition, so the Egyptian government has decided to entertain them with “Merry Christmas in Egypt” signs and decorations alluding to the season.
However, Christmas in Egypt is not exclusively a tourist phenomenon. Of course, to get into the most authentic Christmas spirit, a visit to the Coptic quarter in Cairo is a must. There you will find the churches adorned with all kinds of ornaments, whose greatest charm is that they differ completely from each other, because they were not bought from a single manufacturer but are made by the villagers themselves with their own hands.
The brightness and charm of Christmas in Egypt is an event that, at least once in a lifetime, everyone who has the chance should experience. Christmas in Egypt is a magical experience. The food, the decorations, the traditions, the festivities… and Egypt is no exception! You may not consider Egypt at Christmas, after all, it is a Muslim-majority country, but you’ll find that Egyptians do get into the holiday spirit, and when you know something like that, you will surely want to come back the following year.
Package holidays to Egypt offers several special tour packages to enjoy Christmas in Egypt and visit its most impressive places. We have chosen one of them to tell you how you could experience the holidays if you decide to embark to the country of the Nile.
This trip to Egypt is for 10 days, starting on December 26, and begins in Cairo, capital and main city of Egypt, a city of immense proportions and hectic movement that hides in strategic places the peaceful heart of its history. Firstly to the unmissable pyramids of Giza and its beautiful sphinx, along with the magnificent temples of Aswan, will be the landscapes you will discover during the first days. The second half of the trip will take you among the temples of Luxor, true giants of pharaonic architecture.
pyramids of Giza
Nile cruises are great during holidays to Egypt.
Cruising the Nile and exploring ancient temples is certainly a unique way to spend the holiday season. And don’t worry; it will definitely feel like Christmas. Nile cruises delight guests with festive meals, music, decorations, parties and entertainment. The Nile River is also the perfect place to mark the beginning of a new year. Toast to the health of everyone on board and look forward to creating new and wonderful memories.
Spend Christmas in Egypt and New Year on the red sea beaches.
Ever dreamed of spending Christmas somewhere on the beach, surrounded by white sands, turquoise waters and palm trees? It’s time to head to Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh, Marsa Alam, El Gouna or Dahab to spend Christmas in paradise. These idyllic coastal locations have some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving and allow for total relaxation. For many of us, holidays are a precious time to unwind from work and stress, and what better place to do that than the Red Sea?
Hotels in these areas tend to go all out for Christmas, switching on lights and serving generous buffets. Once you’ve left the beach behind, you’ll return to find the Christmas spirit alive and kicking in your hotel.
Visit St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula
If you want to learn about historic Christian traditions, there is no better place than St. Catherine’s Monastery, officially known as the Holy Monastery of God-Trodden’s Mount Sinai. It was built in the 6th century under the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and is still in operation today.
We invite you to visit it as a pilgrim, bearing in mind the respect due to this ancient spiritual site. Please also note that the monastery is closed on Fridays, Sundays and public holidays (including Christmas and New Year’s Day), so arrange your trip to coincide with opening hours.
Hike to Mount Sinai
Another highlight of this area is the hike to Mount Sinai, which is considered the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments. There are two basic routes for this hike: the so-called “Steps of Penitence,” which is a trail suitable for the Advent season, and a wider, quieter path that can be ascended on foot or by camel. At the top of the mountain there is a small chapel.
Finally, Egypt is home to one of the richest and most varied histories in the world. By visiting this incredible country, you will experience the wonderful cultures and traditions that make it unique. The Christmas and New Year’s season is an excellent time to visit, whether you are deeply interested in Coptic culture or just love Christmas.