The thing about Christmas in Egypt is that there are two Christmases — the majority of Christians in Egypt are Coptic Christian, or Orthodox, and their celebration of Christmas occurs in January. Then there are the smaller numbers of Christians in Egypt, including a chunk of the expatriates like myself, who celebrate Christmas on December 25th, just like the majority of Americans. Though Christmas is technically over in America, it is still an ongoing celebration here in Egypt as the Coptic Christians await their Coptic Christmas.
Though Christmas trees, lights, garland, and other decorations aren't as dominate in Cairo as they are in any American city, they do exist. Christmas decorations are disbursed throughout Maadi, the neighborhood that I live in, and the neighborhood that is probably home to 90 percent of Cairo's expatriate population (just a guess), as well as other neighborhoods throughout this huge, bustling city. Some store windows display winter wonderlands, others with Christmas trees and Santa Clauses, and then there a few nativity scenes here and there. My company put up a natural Christmas tree, adorned with sloppy placed multi-colored garland, lights, and sporadic ornaments in the front reception of our office. It's not the best decorated Christmas tree in the history of Christmas trees, and though only one side is actually decorated, it brings Christmas joy to our office. For the past week there have been constant holiday greetings from both my Muslims and Christian coworkers. Though Muslims don't celebrate the Christmas holiday, they do seem to be respectful to the Christians and join in the Christmas cheer as they realize how important the holiday is to those who do celebrate it. This same spirit was present during Eid (an Islamic holiday) as the Christians wished the Muslims a happy feast.
Several churches throughout the city have had special Christmas events throughout the month and the celebrations continue throughout the first week of January. Unfortunately my schedule hasn't allowed me to attend any of these celebrations, but I'm sure they were nice. Many of the expatriates held Christmas bazaars and there have been a ton of Christmas carol concerts to attend. The Nutcracker ballet even made its way to the Cairo Opera House.
Trying to understand the Egyptian Christmas spirit, I have talked with many of my coworkers in regards to their holiday activities. Again, both Muslims and Christians seem to be sharing the holiday spirit. Many of my Muslim coworkers have attended Christmas concerts and Christmas parties with their Christian friends and my Christian coworkers are enjoying the holiday season with their friends and family and also attending the same holiday parties and concerts held throughout Cairo. Additionally, for a relatively high price one is able to join in the "American" style Christmas spirit by attending any of the various Christmas parties hosted by the several five star hotels throughout Cairo.
Though it is definitely no winter wonderland in Cairo, the weather is freezing. The cold weather, combined with the blinking lights of my miniature Christmas tree, a warm cup of hot chocolate in my hand, and watching "Elf" with one of my closest friends here in Cairo, are proof that the Christmas spirit did not evade me this year. Being able to briefly speak with my family members on Christmas morning, hearing the voices of those who I love so much gathered at my grandparent's home, was the best Christmas gift I could have asked for. While I am miles and miles away from my family in Middlesboro, and though I would have much preferred being with them this Christmas rather than in Cairo for the holiday, I was with them in spirit. That is fulfilling enough for me. I hope your holiday season has been just as fulfilling.
Karema A. Eldahan is a Middlesboro native living in Egypt. She shares this experience through her column in the Middlesboro Daily News. Happy holidays Karema!