Christmas (January 7): It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, but the date coincides with the Orthodox and/or Coptic calendar. During the advent season that leads up to Christmas (from Nov 25 – Jan 6), most people eat a vegan diet. On Christmas Eve, they have a special Christmas service at church starting around 10 pm and going until about midnight. Some services last much longer. On Christmas Day, people spend time with their families and friends, eating a lavish meal of everything they fasted from for the past 43 days. There is a certain type of Christmas treat called kahk, which is like a sweet biscuit, and children will sometimes leave these for Baba Noël (Santa) as they wait for him to come through their windows and leave presents. Even though only about 10% of the population is Christian, it's also celebrated by everyone who enjoys the Christmas treats sold in stores and use the day as a secular holiday.
Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (varies, January/February): Also called Mawlid. In Egypt, the term Mawlid is also used for birthdays of Sufi saints as well. Celebrations usually last a week, filled with prayer and some people use it as a day for fasting. However, at the end of the festival, it’s celebrated with a feast of food and is known for its variety of sweets. A type of small elaborately dressed doll is given as gifts as well for Mawlid.
National Police Day / 2011 Revolution Day (January 25): This holiday is celebrated in reminiscence of when Egyptian police refused British demands to hand over their weapons and exit the police station in 1952. Fifty police officers were killed and more were injured in these clashes. This holiday was set in place to honor those that were killed. Protesters used this day in 2011 to start the 2011 Revolution to address issues of police brutality and other issues.
Orthodox Easter (varies, April): This holiday essentially celebrates the Easter holiday for the same reason as non-Orthodox Christians do, however it’s celebrated on the Coptic calendar. For most Copts, fasting on a vegan diet lasts for the entire 55-day Lent period. Easter Mass is almost always attended, and the afternoon is spent eating lavish meals and visiting with family and friends. However, in recent years, there have been many clashes between the Muslims and Christians in Egypt and the Easter sermons have been addressing the hope for peace.
Sinai Liberation Day (April 25): This holiday commemorates the withdrawal of the last Israeli troops from the town of Taba on the Sinai Peninsula. Most people spend the day visiting zoos and parks, taking strolls along the Nile, or visiting historic places to study about Egyptian history.
Labour Day (May 1): Labour Day is a day for celebrating the worker and addressing labor issues. 2011 was the first year that there was a Labour Day with independent unions. Several of the issues at the heart of the 2011 Revolution were labor related. Egyptian laborers are demanding the establishment of a minimum wage, unemployment rights, and other issues.
Eid al-Fitr (varies, July): Eid al-Fitr is the celebration that falls at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The day usually starts off with a small snack or light meal, and then followed by prayers and a grand extravagant meal in the evening. Children will normally get gifts and new clothes especially for the holiday. Children will also receive a small sum of money used to spend on the Eid festivities. It’s a time for families to spend together, usually at parks, zoos, amusement parks, museums, etc.
Revolution Day (July 23): This holiday commemorates the Revolution of 1952. A group of clandestine revolutionaries called the Free Officers Movement started the military coup. Common activities for this day often include military parades and nationalistic themed city celebrations. This is the biggest secular holiday in Egypt.
Eid al-Adha (varies, October): At the end of the annual Hajj in which many Muslims travel to Mecca (Saudi Arabia) for special prayers. But there are many people who do not or are not able to make the trip. However, there are three days of celebrations for the Eid, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice. This celebration has its basis in the sacrifice that Abraham faced in killing his own child for God but was reprieved at the last minute. One common tradition is to slaughter an animal (usually a cow, sheep, or goat) and keep 1/3 of the meat for yourself, giving 1/3 to your family, and offering 1/3 to charity or to the poor.
Armed Forces Day (October 6): On this day, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel to regain the Sinai Peninsula in 1973, which is the beginning of the October War (or sometimes called the Yom Kippur War).
Islamic New Year/Muharram (varies, October): It celebrates the beginning of the Islamic calendar, and some people celebrate it the entire first month. Since Egyptian Muslims are primarily Sunni, I read that Sunni Muslims celebrate Muharram as the victory of Moses over the Egyptian Pharaohs (which I don’t understand why Egypt is mostly Sunni and they celebrate Moses’ victory over their own kings. Maybe someone can explain this to me.) Many people do fast on this day, and for Sunnis, this is a day of celebration. Other than these things, it’s more of a quiet holiday, not really one with many celebratory traditions.
Other holidays that are celebrated yet businesses and government offices generally remain open include the following: New Year’s Day (January 1), Sportsman’s Day (March 3), Mother’s Day (March 21), Evacuation Day (celebrating when British forces finally left Egypt, June 18), Flooding of the Nile (August 15), Egyptian Naval Day (celebrating the sinking of an Israeli destroyer in 1967, October 21), Suez Day (celebrates the resistance of Egyptians in Suez during the October War, October 24), Victory Day (celebrates the end of Tripartite Aggression in 1956, December 23).
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