Coptic Christmas Date: January 7, 2011
Coptic Christmas is a religious observance for Coptic Orthodox Christians all over the world.
Orthodox Coptic Christmas isn’t celebrated on December 25 as in most of the Western world because Coptic Christians follow the Julian calendar which has a 14-day difference from the Gregorian calendar used by Western Christians. Calendars differences aside, it is the same holiday in which the birth of Jesus is celebrated. On the Coptic calendar it falls on the month of Kiyahk. (A kiyahk is a vase used in ancient Egyptian funeral rituals.)
History of Coptic Orthodox Christmas
Coptic refers to the Christian Church in Egypt that follows the traditions and teachings from the Alexandria school. Before even Jesus was born, there were celebrations on this day since it was the darkest of days in winter after which the days become longer and there was more daylight. In ancient Rome there was a pagan feast called Saturnalia dedicated to Saturn, god of Agriculture. Eating and drinking were the rules of this feast. Other feasts were also celebrated on this time; the feast of Juvenalia for children and the celebration of the birth of Mithra, the god of Sun, on December 25.
We do not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but we know the story from the Bible. In Nazareth, 2010 years ago, a young woman by the name of Mary gave birth to a baby that would be named Jesus by Joseph to whom Mary was engaged. Many years after, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Church officials decided that something needed to be done about the pagan feasts of winter. So it was decided by the Catholic Church to place the celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25, not only because of the meaning of light and life, but also to put an end to all the pagan celebrations.
By this time the Julian calendar was still the official calendar that marked all the celebrations. But it was not an accurate calendar since it followed the phases of the moon and not the sun. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a more accurate calendar to help determine the exact dates of Easter and Christmas. But Protestants and Orthodox Churches did not follow the Catholic calendar and created a gap between the celebrations of Catholic Christians on December 25 and Orthodox Christians on January 7. So today there is the celebration of Christmas and the celebration of Old Christmas.
Coptic Christmas Traditions, Customs and Activities
Coptic Orthodox Christmas begins a week before the celebrations of New Year. The houses are cleaned and decorated for Christmas. There are special cookies called kahl el ‘aid made for the season. But a strict fasting is observed for Christmas, and only vegetarian food is allowed during the Christmas season. Before Christmas all the families buy new clothes. If a family cannot go shopping then clothes are offered by other families or by the church. The churches are decorated with colorful lights and nativity scenes.
On Christmas Eve there is a special Holy Mass that starts at 9 p.m. until 12 a.m., an occasion when everybody can wear their new clothes. In the morning there are greetings of “Merry Christmas” and everybody eats the kahl el ‘aid cookies. Children receive the el ‘aidia, money to buy sweets, toys, sugar cane juice. Fireworks are lit on the streets, children play with their new toys, and improvised football or volleyball matches occur in public parks. It is a day in which families come out from a 45-day fasting period of preparation for Christmas, so it is with great joy that people meet with family and friends to enjoy a full meal with chicken, vegetables, and ice cream.