CAIRO: Decorated Christmas trees and ornaments featuring the two colors of Christmas — red and green — have taken over Egyptian streets during the past few weeks. The holiday once only celebrated by Christians has slowly become a nationwide event across the country, with the majority-Muslim public granting the day almost the same status as Eid Al-Fitr, Eid Al-Adha or the Prophet’s birthday.
Wandering sellers have ditched their World Cup flags for festive Santa-themes toys, hats, keychains and ornaments, making their way from one car to another in the hopes of finalizing a sale. And cars have held up traffic as drivers roll their windows down to get their loved ones, be it children or adults, a small taste of the holiday.
Many malls put up huge decorated Christmas trees weeks before Dec. 25 and visitors have lined up to take photos alongside the bright lights. Egyptian bakeries also put Christmas cookies on display in an effort to reel in children and their families.
“It makes me feel included insofar as the celebrations are shared among everyone without the inclusion of the theological specifics. The celebrations of the birth of Christ still seem to be exclusively a Christian affair, whereas the associated traditions of merriness and generosity are acknowledged as a fun way to relate to the Christians themselves for the traditions we developed over a long period of time,” Karim Gorgi, a Coptic Christian, said.
“Every time I see the Christmas trees, Santa Claus suits and gift-giving ceremonies, which are all allusions to the Christian legend of Saint Nicholas, I feel like the people of Christianity are part of a community rather than distinct from it, the same way there is beauty in seeing Christians and Muslims share a table for Ramadan iftar,” he added.
“There is also beauty in sharing Christmas traditions and decorations over the associated period of time. We set the theological differences aside and just have fun with these traditions together.”
Even offices around Cairo have put up decorations — small trees and wreaths — in an effort to promote the Christmas spirit among employees.
“We are desperate for something to celebrate during these trying times and Christmas is the perfect celebration. The kids enjoy it and the adults love to celebrate it. It has become a holiday for everyone. We are joining in with our Christian friends for Christmas dinners,” 27-year-old marketing worker Farah Ali said.
“We did secret Santa (when each participant is assigned a random person in a group to gift) at work and it was really fun. It has been an annual tradition for some time now. We all wrap up work early and gather around a table topped with beautifully wrapped gifts that we take turns unwrapping and guessing the gifter,” she added.
Ali said that she had introduced the secret Santa concept to her family, who have begun to take part in the annual gift exchange. “It is a really great bonding exercise. With our current busy schedules we barely see each other so this really helped make us closer and more involved in each other’s lives.”
Many locations in Cairo including parks, malls and sporting clubs have hosted Christmas bazaars over the past few weeks, spreading the holiday cheer and offering creative options for Christmas gifts. The bazaars usually feature small local brands aiming to attract new customers, sellers of homemade goods and people selling used items.
In some cases, Christmas has become synonymous with New Year’s Day celebrations. Since the Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, Christmas celebrations occur from mid-December in line with the Catholic celebration — Dec. 25 — until the first week of January.
The majority of Egyptian Christians belong to the Orthodox Church, meaning that their Christmas celebrations happen in the new year, during which they break a 43-day fast. The fast kicks begins on Nov. 25 and lasts until Christmas Eve. During the fast, Christians avoid consuming animal products.