Egypt is in northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Libya and the Gaza Strip.

Although Egypt is not a Christian country, the number of Christians is quite large (multi-millions) and most of them belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. The majority of the Egyptians are Muslim (mostly Sunni).

Christmas Day is celebrated on the 7th of January, equal to the 29th of the Coptic month Khiahk. On that day many people distribute zalabya(donuts)and bouri(mullet fish) to the poor.

The eating habits of Christian Egyptians are carefully structured during the season leading up to Christmas. They fast for 45 days. From November 25th to the night of January 6th, they become vegetarians for the season as they don't eat any meat or dairy products.

Prior to Christmas, all the churches and the Christian homes are decorated with Christmas trees, lights, and small mangers. Some of the Christmas trees are real but most are artificial.

The churches are decorated with special lamps and candles. Copts also give candles to the poor. They are said to represent the candles Joseph used to protect Mary on the night of Jesus's birth.

The Coptic language is used in the church ceremonies and religious songs. It is the old language of the nation before the Arabs came to Egypt.

On the eve of January 6th, the Christians go to the churches to celebrate. The bells of the churches and monasteries ring with joy and the priests wear their ceremonial clothes.

In the majestic Cathedral of Saint Mark in Cairo the Pope of the Orthodox church, Pope Shenouda III, begins the Christmas ceremonies at 11 p.m. which are broadcast on televsion throughout the nation.

After the service, the people return to their homes, where they dine on soup and fatta, made of meat and rice. They also eat special sweet biscuits marked with a cross. Those biscuits are called Kahk and were originally eaten by Moslems on Eid el Fitr when Moslems, too, break their fast.

According to tradition, all children recieve new clothes for Christmas along with a few gifts. Even though it is forbidden by law, many children buy firecrackers to set off as part of the Christmas celebration.

During the holiday season special choirs present concerts of Christmas carols. Worldwide music is mixed with the very special Coptic music.

2001-02 by W. C. Egan

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