Christmas comes but twice a year…
Late December and early January are filled with festivities here in Egypt. Christmas on 25th December (there are lots of expats in Cairo and Alexandria) is followed by the New Year celebration and then the Eastern Christmas on 7th January. So the season of celebration lasts a full two weeks.
The Eastern, or Coptic, Christmas is preceded by a tough fast in the form of an almost entirely vegan diet for over 40 days; the exception to the restrictions is that fish can be eaten.
But happily, the festival marking the birth of Jesus is by no means the commercial bonanza that it has become in the west these days. There simply isn’t the same culture of relentless advertising and over-egging of expectations.
The beautiful, atmospheric churches of Old Cairo mark the occasion in their own way, as here in the Church of the Virgin (the “Hanging Church”, so called because it is literally balanced on top of the fortifications of the ancient Roman fort named – confusingly – Babylon):
Elsewhere, some shops are selling seasonal decorations and the big malls are putting on displays deemed appropriate to the moment, but these have only recently appeared and they will soon be taken down. The shows are oddly anchor-less, out of synch with daily life in Egypt outside the doors of the glitzy malls: you could be more or less anywhere in the world, from New York to the Arabian Gulf to Singapore perhaps. Yet people crowd around them at busy times of the day and night to have their photo taken, attracted by the scenes of seasonal good cheer.