Thursday, December 18, 2008

Welcome to the Land of the Pyramids?

How well do you know the Christmas story? What happened AFTER the manger and the angels and shepherds and wise men? Do you know? An angel came to Joseph in a dream and warned of Herod's mission to find and kill the Child. Joseph packed everyone up then and there and headed to Egypt.

Today we are headed to Egypt ourselves. I was wondering how much of this part of the Christmas story would be recognized or if it had been dominated by the addition of Islam to the religious landscape. It turns out that there is still a very strong Christian presence and therefore Christmas is actually a very prominent celebration.

Something I was not aware of is that the Church in Egypt (called the Coptic Church) is a branch of the Catholic Church but they recognize St. Mark as their founder rather than St. Peter. The Church does not celebrate Christmas on December 25th however. They recognize January 7th as Christmas instead. The holiday is a long and very festive season in Egypt because of the visit of the Holy Family.

In some cities there are complete streets of shops that dedicate thier wares to Christmas this time of year. One particular item that was mentioned on several websites caught my eye (this one is for you J Jiggety!) Apparently there is such a thing as a belly dancing Santa! Try as I might I couldn't find one but please know that I put a lot of effort into it!

Christmas services are held at midnight followed by the ringing of the church bells. Part of the celebration includes a period of fasting daily. When Egyptians eat in the evenings they are only allowed foods that have no animal source (no meat, fish, milk, or eggs). After the Christmas midnight service they go home for a feast including meat and rice called "fatta."

Decorations are heavy with candles and lanterns in tribute to Joseph who legend tells lit candles to warm Mary the night of the Nativity. Another bit of interest for me was that the Christmas holiday is actually a heavy tourist season. In the early 20th century European families would vacation in Egypt for the warmer climate. The hotels however went out of their way to create a Christmas feel with artificial snow and trees. The guests would dress to the nines and celebrate with grand parites. The tourism continues today but maybe without all the snow and trees.

Eid (remember Chris's tour yesterday?) is also celebrated by the Muslim population in the country. But the interesting aspect to me is that the two celebrations are held siultaneously and peacefully. Something to think about!



Jenni Jiggety said...

A Belly Dancing Santa sounds like something I NEED...