Visitors to Egypt in the winter months might be surprised to find festive lights and Christmas trees scattered across central Cairo and certain other parts of Egypt. If you thought that by coming to an Islamic Middle Eastern country you’d be leaving the trappings of Christmas behind in the West, you were wrong.
Significant parts of Egypt still celebrate Christmas, especially in Cairo and other urban centers. But what’s really bizarre for many visitors is that Christmas in Egypt is celebrated both in December and in January. That’s because many hotels and other Western establishments that host tourists from Europe and North America know that their guests are in the middle of their native holiday period in December and show respect for those foreign traditions by decorating with trees and lights.
But many people don’t know that there’s also a very substantial native Christian population that has lived in Egypt for two thousand of year and remains there today. They’re called the Copts locally, and they’re part of a branch of the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith tradition. They even have their own Pope and all.
Copts make up about 10-20% of the Egyptian population, depending on whom you ask, which at nearly 100 million strong today puts the Coptic minority at about 9 million strong. In January, the Copts also celebrate their own Christmas, and lights and trees and such continue to be festively displayed all over Egypt.
So if you ever find yourself in Egypt in late December, you’ll find your holiday and religious traditions proudly respected and celebrated. And if you’re there in early January, you’ll be able to take part in one of the world’s oldest true Christmas celebrations with descendants of one of the original Christian sects founded by St. Mark just 9 short years after the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
Pretty neat, huh?