Egypt is one of the most popular tourist destinations in countries with predominantly Muslim populations. That’s because of the Pyramids, but it’s also because the culture is comparatively cosmopolitan. The population includes many Christians as well as a smattering of other religions, and for the most part, the people have learned to live and let live. And during the Egypt holidays and events, the celebrations can be very memorable.
Here are some facts that you need to know about Egyptian holidays and festivals:
Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr
Ramadan is a month for spiritual contemplation, so it’s a very somber time. From sunup to sunset, there’s no eating and drinking, no smoking, and no sex. Business hours are reduced as well.
But afterward, they’re the 3 or 4 days of Eid al-Fitr. The last day of fasting is the iftar, and then that night sees people celebrating everywhere and all night. Then on the next day, people wear their new and best clothes outside as they enjoy the fairs and other street festivities. Friends and family exchange gifts and sweets. It’s a fun time after an entire month of fasting.
Unlike in most parts of the world, here in Egypt, the Coptic Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on January 7. Most people, even the Muslims, join in the festivities. This is especially true in areas like Cairo where there are lots of Christians around.
In the days before Christmas, business buildings, shops, and homes are festooned with Christmas lights and decorations. Streets host bazaars and manger scenes. After the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, people meet to enjoy fata, a traditional dish rice, garlic, and meat soup.
Leylet en Nuktah
The ancient Egyptians venerated the Nile since it brought the people so much bounty throughout the year. In fact, they even sacrificed women to appease the gods and to help bring on the flooding. Despite the rise of modern religions such as Islam and Christianity, this tradition is still celebrated every June 17. It’s an acknowledgment of the Nile’s importance since the flooding of the river brings the silt for the rich soil of the Delta.
Of course, the sacrifice of women is no longer done. Instead, people picnic along the river’s edges, or perhaps spend the night partying in the streets with family and friends.
At sunset, women put out balls of dough which represents the people in the house. When the sun comes up the next day, they examine the cracks on the dough and make predictions about a person’s fortune.
This festival celebrates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Processions and parades go through city streets, with lots of musicians, dancers, and acrobats. Families hold reunions to exchange greetings and gifts, and then they enjoy the street fairs. The traditional food of the festival is hummus, but you can also get sweets like halawet el-moulid from street vendors.
Celebrated on March 21, it’s an ancient holiday marking the arrival of spring. Musicians, dancers, and lots of food vendors fill the streets , while many people go on picnics in parks, in the countryside, or on boat rides across the Nile. The picnic goers pack their baskets with dried or pickled fish, as well as midamis or fuul dishes. These are the traditional food items of the Sham al-Naseem.
If you’re visiting the country, don’t miss any of these Egypt holidays and events. They will show a side of the country and its people that the media don’t often show.