Since Egypt is a country of mostly Islamic belief you might think that Christmas is not celebrated. But you would be wrong. There is a percentage of Christian population that keeps alive the most traditional Christmas celebrations although in their own way. In addition, as a result of the high influx of European and Western tourists in Cairo at this time of year, more and more hotels and places are celebrating Christmas for their guests.
Of course, do not expect streets decorated to the flag, the typical Christmas trees or illuminated streets. Here Christmas is different and if you join me in this reading I will tell you what are the Christmas traditions that are celebrated in Cairo or what are the best plans you can do at this time to keep alive the Christmas spirit.
1. Discover Coptic Christmas
In Egypt it is estimated that approximately 15% of the population is Christian and, therefore, they celebrate Christmas. The vast majority of them are concentrated in Cairo and belong to the orthodox branch known as Coptic. Christmas in Egypt's capital is celebrated according to Coptic traditions. In fact, the Coptic quarter of Cairo is the religious center of this Christian current.
The main differences of the Coptic Christmas is that the day of the birth of Christ is celebrated on January 7 instead of the traditional December 25 and the custom of fasting from November 40 days before Christmas Day. Otherwise, the Coptic Christmas also has celebrations, dinners, special dishes and a lot of rites and customs that I invite you to discover if you travel to Cairo on the dates of Coptic Christmas.
2. Holy Family Tour
One of the Christmas customs that the Copts have and that most attracts tourists is to follow the route of the Holy Family. According to the Bible, the family of Jesus in their flight from Israel arrived in Cairo where they took refuge in several points on which today churches are built in honor of the baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
Most of these churches are located in the Coptic quarter. Those that are part of this route and are worth visiting are: The church of St. Sergius, the Hanging Church or Al-Muallaqa, the church of St. Barbara, the church and convent of St. George and the Church of the Virgin. At Christmas time all of them hold special celebrations that include nativity scenes or choir performances. In the Coptic museum in the neighborhood itself collects all the history related to the Holy Family and is a very interesting complement to complete this route.
3. January 7 Celebration
Coptic Christmas in Egypt is not celebrated on December 25th but on January 7th. If you happen to be in Cairo on this day, it is interesting to know what are the traditions of this day. The celebration of Christmas is preceded by a period of fasting that the most religious Copts do from November 25 and the less religious ones usually do it for a week. So, as you can imagine, Christmas meals that day are considerable. It is a good occasion to taste the local gastronomy according to its tradition.
Also from the religious perspective the churches of the route of the holy family make their respective celebrations being the main one officiated by the Coptic pope in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo and televised for the whole country. Of course it is a special day and as part of the celebration there are also Christmas carol concerts, with a mixed program of international and Coptic music.
4. Christmas decoration and tour of the Coptic Quarter
If you travel to Cairo in December or January you will surely miss the typical Christmas decorations or at least the atmosphere of these holidays. In the rest of the capital Christmas goes unnoticed but in the Coptic neighborhood if you can see decorations and even Christmas trees. So strolling through the neighborhood is one of the most Christmasy things you can do.
I propose a tour of this neighborhood in which, in addition to its Coptic churches, you can see places like the ruins of ancient Roman towers, the mosque of Amr Ibn Al As, the oldest in Egypt, the synagogue of Ben Ezra or the Coptic Museum.
. The latter is very interesting to learn about the history of the neighborhood. So you can take advantage of a tour of this neighborhood to soak up a bit of history as well as a bit of Christmas spirit.
5. New Year's Eve in Cairo
New Year's Eve is not celebrated in Cairo as we know it because they follow the Arab calendar and New Year's Eve is a different date. But given the high number of European visitors in late December hotels and other establishments do celebrate New Year's Eve in a similar way to the West.
To celebrate New Year's Eve in Cairo there are several options. You can sign up for one of the gala dinners held by some of the hotels in the city, take a cruise on the Nile where they also make special dinners and celebrations or celebrate on your own watching the special light show that they do on December 31 on the pyramids.
6. Christmas gastronomy
What better way to celebrate Christmas than by sharing a nice lunch or dinner. Tasting the typical gastronomy of Cairo at Christmas time
is one of the best activities we can do. As in the dates before Christmas there is a fast in which you can not eat meat or dairy, many of the typical recipes do not carry those ingredients. The most popular dish is the Ghryba cookies made with ginger, almonds, nutmeg and lemon zest.
When the fast is over there is a very extensive range of dishes. Fatteeh, which is a rice dish with meat, vine leaves with pear known as Wara'einab or Kahk el Eid, cookies with tea, are some of the most common dishes on January 7. In Cairo restaurants and especially in the Coptic quarter you can try these Christmas delicacies.
7. In the absence of Christmas illumination...Light show over the pyramids.
If you are a lover of Christmas lighting in Cairo you will not find many samples of it. But almost every night in the Egyptian city takes place one of the most impressive light and sound shows in the world and it is the one they do in the pyramids and the sphinx of Giza. On these wonders of the world lights and images are projected to the rhythm of music that captivate everyone who sees it.
December 31, on New Year's Eve, is one of the best days to see it. To bid farewell to the year, a special show that will remain engraved in the retina of all those who are lucky enough to end the year enjoying it. The entrance for this show is a bit expensive but you can see it for free from a distance although, logically, it is not the same.
8. Christmas shopping at the Khan El Khalili market
Did you know that Cairo and Egypt have their own Santa Claus? His name is Baba Noel. It is also the land of the Magi so gifts are a fundamental part of Christmas in Cairo. That's why the city's bazaars and markets are filled with people looking for the perfect gift for Christmas. The best known of them all and the best place to do your Christmas shopping is the Khan El Khalili market.
Considered the best market in the Middle East, here you will find all kinds of products for Christmas gifts. In its hundreds of stalls sell jewelry, Egyptian handicrafts, perfumes, spices, etc.. If you don't find the perfect Christmas gift here, it doesn't exist. In the same market there are also cafes and restaurants to liven up your shopping.
9. Camel ride...just like the kings themselves.
Another of the favorite activities of tourists at Christmas, and in general the rest of the year, are the camel rides. Riding on these animals and taking a ride with the pyramids in the background is quite an experience and at Christmas time it makes you feel like you are in the skin of the magic kings of the Orient. To give it more ambience can even be done at night under the stars although they will not be the ones that guide us to Bethlehem but a qualified guide.
The prices of this activity vary depending on several factors such as the size of the group, the duration of the tour or the hours. But they start from a very affordable base. The advantage of doing it at Christmas time are also the temperatures of that time since they are very pleasant unlike the summer or spring when you do not feel like taking a walk under the scorching sun.
10. Celebrations on the Nile
Celebrating Christmas in Cairo is already a luxury and a very different way to do it. But you can make it even more special if possible as do many of the tourists who come to the Egyptian capital at that time. I am suggesting you to do it aboard a cruise on the Nile River.
Given the high demand of tourists at Christmas these cruises organize celebrations and dinners according to these holidays. Cairo is a starting point for the vast majority of vessels plying the Nile and there are cruises that travel along its entire length with stops at places of interest such as Luxor, Aswan or Abu Simbel. Celebrating Christmas on board is something very special every day more and more demanded as well as saying goodbye to the year in one of these cruises on the Nile River.
Cairo Christmas weather
January, when Christmas is celebrated in Cairo, is the coldest month of the year in the capital of Egypt, although it is not exactly cold. In fact temperatures in January are more similar to those we have in Europe in spring. The highs hover around 20 degrees while the lows usually do not fall below 10 degrees.
The weather is extremely pleasant
and since the probability of rain is minimal and there are few cloudy days, Christmas becomes one of the best times to travel to Cairo considering the weather.
The influx of tourists and prices in Cairo at Christmas time
In many European cities the Christmas holidays are key to attract tourists and therefore is usually a reason for a high influx of tourists. But in Cairo this factor is almost irrelevant and what makes the months of December and January are considered high season is the weather. In summer temperatures are unbearable so the winter concentrates the vast majority of visitors to Cairo.
This makes it high season which translates into more demand for travel and hotels, more queues and people in the monuments and more expensive prices when booking our trip.
What to pack in your suitcase to visit Cairo at Christmas time
The weather often confuses travelers to Cairo as it is different from the European climate especially in winter. If you are traveling in December or January to the capital of Egypt forget about Christmas sweaters, hats and warm clothes typical of those dates. What you should bring in your suitcase I tell you below:
- Light-colored light clothes for the daytime.
- Thin jackets and something a little warmer for the evening.
- Since it is an Islamic country in some places there are dress restrictions. So wear long sleeved clothes and in the case of women it is advisable to wear a scarf to cover your hair.
- Always carry your passport with you as you may be asked for it at various monuments or places of interest.
- Cap, sunglasses and various accessories to combat the sun are still useful.