Merry Coptic Christmas! Traditions in the Christian Middle East

Coptic ChristmasMerry Coptic Christmas! On January 7th, Christian minorities around the Middle East (most part of the Coptic Church) celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Why on this day, you may ask?Well, this Orthodox Church actually used to celebrate Christmas on December 25th as well, but this all changed when the Gregorian calendar was introduced in the 16th century.

In 1582, the Gregorian calendar introduction shifted the life of those who adopted it by 10 days ahead in comparison to both the Julian and Coptic calendars. Thus, Coptic Christmas will be 13 days after December 25th on the Gregorian calendar (January 7th) up until the year 2100, when it will shift to January 8th. I can’t even imagine being born in that century with calendars, signs, and birthdays shifting — crazy times indeed! 😛

Now you must be wondering: Is Coptic Christmas any different than Western Christmas? In essence, not really! Instead of starting to decorate homes with lights after Thanksgiving weekend in November, Coptic Christmas season officially starts a week before the New Year. Then, on Coptic Christmas Eve (January 6th), believers go to mass (typically from 9 PM – midnight), just like regular Christians do in the Western world.

Coptic Christmas mass

Coptic Christmas mass in Egypt (Photo:

There is one big difference between Coptic Christmas and Western Christmas, however. While in most parts of the world the biggest feasts and best meats are eaten during this season, Copts observe a strict fasting. What’s interesting is that while they only eat vegetarian dishes throughout the season, they still make and eat special Coptic Christmas cookies, which are called kahl el ‘aid. Additionally, new clothes are bought right before the season starts. In fact, believers attend Coptic Christmas Eve mass in completely new outfits. So there are some treats to be had during Coptic Christmas, too! 😉

Coptic Christmas cookies

traditional Egyptian cookies eaten during eid and also Coptic Christmas (Photo: Nano Nour)

Then, on Coptic Christmas Day, children receive el ‘aidia (money) so they can buy even more sweets, all while fireworks spark in the sky and soccer balls fly around in parks all over the town ( Best part? After 45 days of strict fasting, Copts get to feast on meat! A typical meal, though, includes chicken, even more veggies, and delicious desserts (ice cream, even more kahl el ‘aid, etc.!)

Fata, a typical Coptic Christmas food, which is also a popular dish among all Egyptians

Have you ever celebrated Coptic Christmas? Comment below!

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