Coptic Christmas Date in the current year: January 7, 2024

Coptic Christmas Most Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7 instead of December 25 since they’re using the old Julian calendar or similar calendars. Among those who celebrate Christmas in January are Ethiopian, Eritrean and Coptic Christians. Since the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches have split from the Coptic Orthodox Church, their Christmas celebrations are very similar to Coptic Christmas.

The Coptic Orthodox Church uses the Alexandrian calendar based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. Its months coincide with those of the Ethiopian calendar used in Ethiopia and Eritrea, but have different names.

Since the year in these calendars starts in August according to the Julian calendar or in September according to the Gregorian calendar, Coptic Christmas occurs during the fourth month of the year in the Alexandrian/Ethiopian calendar. The name of the month is Koiak in Coptic and Tahsas in Amharic (the liturgical language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) and Tigrinya (the language of the Eritrean Orthodox Church).

The Christmas season in Egypt, where most Coptic Christians live, Ethiopia and Eritrea begins on November 25 in the Gregorian calendar. It is the first day of the Holy Nativity Fast, during which Christians refrain from all animal products (meat, eggs and dairy) and eat only one meal a day. Like any other religious fast, the Nativity Fast isn’t really about dietary restrictions. It is a way for Christians to show self-control and devotion, rise above earthly pleasures, and strengthen their relationship with God.

The Coptic Nativity Fast lasts for 43 days. The first 40 days of the fast are a reference to how Moses fasted for 40 days in the desert before receiving the Tablets of the Law with the Ten Commandments from God. The additional and final three days of the fast commemorate the Moving of the Mountain miracle involving Pope Abraham of Alexandria, the 62nd leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The celebration of Coptic Christmas begins on Christmas Eve, when church services are held throughout Egypt, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. The services usually start at around 6 p. m. and last until midnight or even until Christmas morning. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, it is customary to attend church in traditional white garments. Some people would walk from church to church on foot all night to attend several services before the break of dawn.

After the service, Copts, Ethiopians and Eritreans go home to break the fast. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, it is customary to cook a spicy stew made of meat and vegetables, served with injera (a sour fermented flatbread made of teff flour) and tej (a honey wine made from the gesho shrub, honey and various spices).

Coptic Christians break the fast with a Middle Eastern dish called fatteh. It consists of meat, pieces of flatbread, rice, and a garlic tomato sauce. Fatteh isn’t an exclusively Christmas dish; Egyptians of different denominations cook it to celebrate special occasions. For example, Egyptian Muslims serve fatteh for iftar (the evening meal eaten during Ramadan).

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