A Coptic Orthodox Christmas: Fasts, Feasts & Plenty of Cheese – Mary Fawzy

January 6 is usually the date that Christmas decorations come down in the Western world. It also happens to be Christmas Eve for many—those who belong to Eastern Orthodox churches around the world, in places like Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Armenia, Russia, and Greece (and many others). For this large, global community, Christmas Day is January 7, and usually marks the end of a 40-day period of pescatarian or vegan fasting. Because of this, the day is typically celebrated with a meaty feast—for Egyptians, this usually includes an obligatory side of cheese (more on that in a moment).

Why celebrate the same holiday more than a week later than members of a different branch of the same religion? A historical disagreement over which calendar to use, of course. The Eastern Orthodox Church marks many liturgical dates according to the Julian calendar; Catholic and Protestant churches follow the Gregorian calendar. Fasting is a pivotal part of Orthodox faith: For Coptic Egyptians, this can involve abstaining from animal products, or not eating or drinking at all during specific hours, for more than 210 days of the year for various commemorations.

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