Simple Coptic Christmas with a family in Shubra

Coptic Orthodox Christians — who represent the vast majority of the Coptic community in Egypt — celebrated Christmas on Tuesday January 7. The occasion was marked by many celebrations and family festivities, conducted under high surveillance.

The Muslim Brotherhood has accused Egypt’s Christians of  “complicity” in the overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi. After many bloody attacks against their churches and homes this summer, and the murder of four worshipers leaving a church in Cairo, many Christians were particularly anxious about the approach of Christmas. In Shubra, known for its large Coptic community, police officers surrounded the entrances to churches, securing the area and forbidding any suspicious bags or cameras from entering during mass. 

“I hope there are no bombs or anything, but security is good, the interior minister sent these troops. These days, we just hope to live well and safely in this country and get over everything that happened previously,” says 55-year-old Aida Lofty Hanna, who lives in El-Massara, Shubra.

Aida, an employee of Cairo governorate, has two children, Michael (27) and Andrew (22). For her, there is less to be scared about compared to last year, when Morsi was President. She let her sons go to Church, while she prepared the feast on Christmas Eve. “We prepare for this, clean our home, decorate it… We are celebrating the birth of God of glory, Jesus, his birthday.”

Copts fast before Christmas for 42 days, without any meat or milk, only fish. To break the fast, Aida decided to cook goulash, duck, kofta and chicken — meals are composed mostly of meat. “We don’t cook heavy saucy meals at Christmas; we cook easy, light things, because the stomach has been fasting for 43 days, so that we don’t get sick after we eat,” she says.

While waiting for her two sons to come back home for the feast, Aida watched TV as Tawadros II made his live Christmas speech. From St. Mark’s Cathedral, Tawadros II announced the guests of the Christmas Mass, starting with interim President Adly Mansour and Head of the Armed Forces Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. One of Aida’s neighbors entered the room and commented sarcastically that last year President Mohamed Morsi wasn’t even at the Christmas celebration.

As time passes by until midnight, when the fast is broken, neighbors — adults and children — passed by to celebrate Christmas with Aida. “My siblings are living in the same house; two older sisters, a boy, and my son Michael. Then my nephew, my sister’s son, is living above us, and my brother, and the son of my sister’s son. There are no strangers here, they are all family, my brothers and sisters,” she says.

Between Aida’s apartment and her husband’s sister’s place there is only a small hall, where the kids enjoyed throwing firecrackers.

Just before midnight, Michael, his wife and Andrew arrived at Aida’s small apartment ready to enjoy the feast amid the sounds of firecrackers and fireworks outside. After dinner, Aida, Michael and his wife stayed home, while Andrew went out to have a drink with friends. “Our Christmas is very simple, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, then we visit the family after dinner or on January 7,” Aida explains.

Virginie Nguyen