Egypt is a country of festivals and celebrations. A lot of religious and cultural festivals are celebrated each year. The population of Egypt is estimated to be close to 80,000,000. It is estimated that between 80 to 90% of the population in Egypt is Muslim and the remaining 10 to 20% of the population being Christian. Even though the laws in Egypt need to be in line with the Islamic law, the Constitution also extends freedom of religion to other religions including Christianity and Judaism.
Most of the festivals in Egypt are celebrated together. Also, Egypt has a very long history and there are many ancient cultural festivals that are celebrated by people of all faith together. Here is a list of some of the most common religious and cultural festivals in Egypt, in no particular order.
The traditional Christians of Egypt have their own pope who is the head of the Coptic churches. Coptic Christians celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth on 7 January which falls on the 29th day of the Khiahk, a Coptic month. Before the Christmas, people observe fast for a period of 43 days that is called Lent. However, this fast does not mean that people go without food.
During this period, people normally do not consume any animal products such as fish, milk, meat and eggs. Most of the people observe this fast only for the last week. The Christmas in Egypt is not overly commercialized, as is the case with the Western countries. There are special marketplaces for Christmas shopping where most of the profits are given to charity. The real celebrations begin a week before the Christmas where people come together to celebrate the festivities.
Abu Simbel Sun Festival
This is a biennial festival that happens in February and October of each month. It takes place on 22nd February and 22nd of October. People from all around the world travel to Egypt to take part in the celebrations on these 2 days. The unique thing about this festival is that only on these two days, the inner sanctum of the temple constructed by Ramses II at Abu Simbel lights up due to the direct sun’s rays.
Another amazing thing is that the statue of Ptah (a.k.a. God of Darkness) remains dark. There is a saying that these days are marked by the birth and Coronation of Ramses II. There are huge celebrations outside the temple and overall, it is an experience that should not be missed. There is a lot of music and one gets to meet people from all over the world.
This is a fairly big Islamic festival where people celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. There are big processions and celebrations in most of the big cities in Egypt. Almost all of the big streets in the cities are filled with musicians, drummers, acrobats and dancers. This festival is celebrated by families by exchanging gifts. Hummus is the traditional food of this festival.
Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr
As you may be aware, Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims. This month is decided as per the Islamic calendar and therefore, the dates vary each year. Muslims, who observe Ramadan, do not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset. However, a meal is eaten before the sun rises and it is known as Suhoor. At sunset, another meal is taken and this meal is known as Iftar.
Alcohol is sold only to tourists and only in some areas during the month of Ramadan. Also, most of the offices and shops change their opening hours in the month of Ramadan and one can see very heavy traffic close to the sunset as people rush home in time for iftar.
Eid ul-Fitr is the period lasting three days and it signals the end of the month of Ramadan. On these three days, all the government offices, universes as well as schools are closed to allow people to celebrate the festivities. On the first day of the festival, people usually visit family and exchange gifts. There are a lot of trips, street gatherings, eating, cooking and other celebrations.
All the Egyptians celebrate this holiday on 21st of March to mark the occasion of the coming of spring. On this day, people spend all their day in the park or countryside. Some people also take trips on the Nile River for their picnic. Dried fish is the traditional dish of this festival.
Wafaa El Nil
This is one of the most ancient festivals in the country. It lasts for a period of two weeks in the month of August. This festival marks the importance of the Nile River in the country. These days music concerts, seminars, painting competitions and other such a celebrations take place to mark the occasion. Before Aswan dam was constructed in the 1970s, flooding of the Nile River allowed cultivation of land in the dry region.
This is celebrated on 23 July each year. This is the date of the military coup in the year 1952 that put an end to the monarchy and led to the creation of an independent republic.
Leylet en Nuktah
This is also one of the ancient festivals in the country. Many centuries back, Egyptians used to sacrifice beautiful women to appease the Nile Gods and pray for flooding of the river. These days, Egyptians gather around the edges of the Nile River on 17 June to celebrate this festival with friends and family.
Cairo International Film Festival
This International film Festival was started in the year 1976. It is the only film Festival in the region that has been recognized by the FIAPF. It is also rated as one of the top class film festivals and has similar ratings to the Cannes film festival, Montréal film Festival, Berlin film Festival and Tokyo film Festival.
Characters of Egypt Festival
During his three-day festival, a lot of tribes come together to meet with each other. The festival includes sports competitions, tribal meetings, dance, poetry, music, educational sessions and much more. It is estimated that close to 300,000 people are living a Nomadic life in the country. During this festival, foreign tribes are also invited to join in the festivities.
These are some of the major cultural and religious festivals in Egypt. Egypt has a long history and one should definitely visit Egypt during the period of celebration of these festivals to take part in the festivities of the locals.
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Embarking upon a trip to Egypt is exciting, as you anticipate the pyramids and other cultural attractions and activities that the country has to offer. Westerners can visit St. Catherine’s Monastery and The Hanging Church, or they can take a safari through the Great Sand Sea or take a Nile Cruise from Aswan to Luxor.
There are literally tons of things to do, but traveling abroad to another country can be a little overwhelming to many people. Specifically, traveling to Egypt, which is a Middle Eastern country, can make people nervous. The following are the top 10 tips for westerners traveling to Egypt.
#1 Safe Environment
First of all, it’s time to put your mind at ease. Surely, the fact that it’s another country can make you culturally nervous and wondering about safety when traveling overseas. However, Egypt is in fact very safe, and this is upheld by a culture of family responsibility and deep religious principles. A city like Cairo or another metropolis in Egypt would be much safer than its western counterpart.
Egyptians are very hospitable and receptive to westerners. Indeed, the way the Egyptians go about their daily lives can be puzzling to foreigners, but very culturally interesting and not unsafe in the least. Understanding the culture and customs better can help you better be the guest and help them figure out how to better welcome you.
#2 Pork, Drugs And Alcohol
Egyptians in general do not eat pork, and they also do not use drugs. You’re going to find some that may drink alcohol, but most of them do not for devout religious reasons. However, if you’re wanting to drink alcohol while traveling abroad in Egypt, you can and most people won’t say anything. Furthermore, when it comes to sexual or pornographic material, it is actually illegal, so you don’t want to have any of this on your person.
Missionaries and people looking to convert Egyptians to other religions and political beliefs aren’t looked highly upon and are sometimes asked to leave the country. It’s all about the very conservative Muslim faith, and those that do not practice Islam are usually Copts. So you can see that when it comes to religious beliefs, they are strict, but this is just for people looking to convert them. If you’re on a vacation, you’re on a vacation.
Many women wonder how they will be treated when traveling to a Middle Eastern country. Will they have to do as the women do in the country? There are hardly any restrictions on western women who visit Egypt. You may be asked to sit up front on the bus with the rest of the women, and this would be the first car on the metro line. One more small technicality is any lines you encounter, where you might line up in a segregated fashion with the rest of the women.
As a man traveling to Egypt, the first thing you want to remember is not to speak to an Egyptian woman you don’t know. While some of the more modern people will not abide by this, you don’t know when you don’t know the family. Therefore, be cautious, as those ancient traditions are out there and expected to be respected.
#6 Personal Space
It’s a good idea to be acquainted with the fact of how Egyptians view personal space so that it doesn’t surprise you. Egyptians don’t really need personal space, and while it may seem different at first, it’s a pleasant experience, as they are eager and willing to help you navigate your way around. In fact, when one stops and talks, others will soon join, bouncing ideas and answers off one another.
#7 Invitations & Offers
If you offer something to an Egyptian, he is not going to accept it on the first try. It would be nice and customary for westerners to approach this the same way. If an Egyptian is really offering you something that he wants to give you from his heart, then he will then repeat his offer to you.
#8 Home Invites
Egyptians are likely going to invite you into their homes to eat a meal. If you’re invited, this is considered to be a big deal to them. If you cannot make it but say you can during your stay at a later time, you definitely want to keep your word.
You do not want to be offering tips to other professionals, as they are your equals. In Egyptian culture, this is offensive. See how these little tips can save you from a world of humiliation?
#10 The Veil
Many westerners travel to Egypt thinking all women are going to be completely covered and wearing veils. This is simply not true, although the veils are still worn by some at times. They can be popularly worn to keep the males from making advances, and they are also worn sometimes for religious reasons.
Are you planning on visiting one of the mosques? The mosques are wide open for you to pay a visit, except during services. You might want to know that main services in most of the mosques is going to be at noon on Friday.
Knowing a little bit more about Egyptian culture now should help you have a more pleasant visit to Egypt. There are so many sights and sounds waiting for you!
Posted in Uncategorized by characterjames
Every year in Egypt a major cultural event takes place. It is the festival known as Characters of Egypt. The purpose of this festival is to provide a venue where the tribes of Egypt can get together for cultural exchange and an open airing of shared issues. The goal of this annual event is to provide a meeting place for the many diverse tribes of the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian deserts and the area surrounding the Nile.
At this event, tribe members and leaders get to know each other, share interesting and enjoyable aspects of their culture and hold tribal meetings to resolve important issues. Representatives of each tribe travel from all around Egypt and converge on the Wadi El Gemal National Park, which is located alongside the Red Sea just fifty kilometers to the south of Marsa Alam. This is a simple, natural, beautiful setting that is conducive to good time, good work and good relations.
Are All Egyptian Tribes Represented?
It would be difficult to get complete representation of all tribes because there are so many tribes and tribe members. In Egypt, there are forty five nomadic tribes consisting of a total of about 300,000 people. Twenty one of these tribes are represented at the festival, and these representatives are grouped into seven regional teams:
* North Sinai
* South Sinai
* Nile Valley
Although each tribe is unique, it is thought that these regional groupings will make the best use of the wealth of diversity present while providing well rounded representation for each region. The goal is to help the many tribes of Egypt see and appreciate the similarity of the challenges they face as well as the value of working together to overcome them. The meetings and discussions that take place at the festival go far toward settling any past differences between tribes and preventing future difficulties.
What Happens At The Festival?
The festival is an opportunity for enjoyment as well as work. It begins with a ceremony followed by a parade in which each tribe displays typical song and dance. After the parade, notable VIPs give speeches. Throughout the three days of the festival, many enjoyable events take place throughout each day so there is always something to do and see.
Many participants in the festival enjoy playing a popular outdoor Egyptian game called Sega. This is a large scale board game that is similar to tic-tac-toe using rocks and camel dung as place markers.
Sporting, cultural and educational events are all on offer, in addition to a regular schedule of meetings and projects. Events include tug of war, high jump and long jump contests, foot races, camel races and more. In addition to sporting events, there are many musical events in which each tribe performs authentic tribal music using unique, native instruments. Beautiful, authentic artwork and craft items are also on display and available for purchase. Educational and cultural events include story-telling, poetry readings and lectures on topics such as water conservation and eco-tourism.
Can Anyone Attend The Festival?
All in all, the Characters of Egypt festival is an excellent opportunity for the many diverse tribes of Egypt to gather and enjoy and appreciate one another’s culture and way of life. While this is the main focus of the event, travelers wishing to participate may do so as visitors or as volunteers. The event is organized and run almost entirely by volunteers, and one hundred volunteers are needed every year. This is an excellent opportunity to gain in depth knowledge of the many fascinating traditional tribes in Egypt.
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Egyptian history has been shaped in great part by Egypt’s unusual environment. The Sahara Desert spans the width of the upper part of the African continent, and for the most part it is barren and uninhabitable. The Egyptian deserts are, to some extent, an exception because of the Nile river.
Egyptian desert lies on both sides of the Nile and makes up approximately ninety percent of the land surface of the country. In ancient times in Egypt, the people described their land as “red” or “black” land. The black land was the fertile, arable land surrounding the River Nile. The red lands of Egypt actually comprise six separate deserts. Four are major deserts and two are minor. All have colored sands.
Egypt’s Western Desert
The Western Desert of Egypt is 262,000 square miles of mountainous plateaus and sweeping sand dunes located on the western side of the Nile Valley. This desert is approximately the same size as the state of Texas and makes up about two thirds of the total land area of Egypt. There are five oases in this desert. They are:
The Arabian or Eastern Desert
The Arabian Desert is also called the Eastern Desert because it is located on the eastern side of the Nile Valley. This area is more mountainous and has a number of oil reservoirs. The Eastern Desert makes up over twenty percent of Egyptian land area; however, its population is small with just a few villages located on the coast of the Red Sea.
Egypt’s Great Sand Sea
On the Sahara Desert’s northern side, the Great Sand Sea can be found. This immense desert is the second largest desert in the world and covers over 27,000 square miles. Its sand dunes alone stretch for more than eighty five miles and contain four of the five types of sand dunes in existence. They are:
* Straight (linear)
Sand dunes are created when the wind blows the sands from opposing directions.
The Sinai Desert
In Egypt’s northeast corner is the Sinai Desert which is a portion of the Sinai Peninsula. There is also another desert on this peninsula. It is knowns as the Blue Desert because of a man-made feature consisting of stones that have been painted blue. In 1980, an artist created this work as a symbol of peace. It covers four miles, and some of the stones are over thirty feet high.
Egypt’s White Desert
The white sands of this portion of the Western Desert give this area its name. In addition to white sands, natural white limestone and chalk rock formations can be found here. The shapes of these formations are intriguing with some shaped like mushrooms, icebergs or fjords. The area appears to be covered in snow. In addition to these natural wonders, the White Desert is home to ancient carvings, tombs and caves. For this reason, the area is a protected zone.
The Black Desert
On the north side of the White Desert, the Black Desert can be found. The sands of this desert are dark because of past volcanic activity. Rocks and hills are black as coal, and their continuous erosion with the passage of time will ensure that the sands of this desert are always black.
The River Nile Made Life Possible In The Egyptian Desert Regions
The famous Nile runs directly through the center of Egypt. This mighty river gets its start in the rain forest to the south of Ethiopia and flows into the Mediterranean Sea. Its waters make agriculture possible in Egypt, and some of the most plentiful crops are:
Throughout Egypt’s long history, the Nile has sustained life in this otherwise arid land. During the rainy season in ancient times, the Nile would flood and deposit silt on the surrounding lands. This silt was rich black dirt that had been carried by the river from Africa. It made the lands fertile and made it possible for the Egyptians to grow crops and thrive. The ancient Egyptians were the first people to use irrigation methods. They dug ditches from the Nile to their fields so that its water would flow freely to the fields and water the crops.
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The land of Egypt is home to an ancient history dating back over 5,000 years when the pharaonic nation was busy constructing some of the most mysterious monuments that are such profound attractions today. Practically every school child can point out the great pyramids of Giza; the Great Sphinx and the esoteric temples of Luxor are no less famous.
But there also exist many attractions beyond these great monuments located along the Nile. Other possible attractions in Egypt include snorkeling and surfing in the Red Sea or camel trips to secluded oases or the Sinai Mountains.
Following is a list of the top 5 most beautiful destinations in the mind-blowing land of Egypt.
1. PYRAMIDS OF GIZA
There is a good reason this majestic attraction is the first on the list. The Great Pyramids are the only wonders lefts standing from the Greeks listings of the Seven Ancient Wonders and that makes them the oldest tourist attractions in the history of civilization. Known by many names, including Cheops, Mycerinus, Chephren or the Necropolis of Giza, these mysterious structures were well over 2,000 years old when the worlds first tourist review board, led by Herodotus the Greek historian visited them.
Located only a short distance from the outer suburbs of modern Cairo this is probably the easiest attraction to visit and most rewarding. There has been endless debates as to how these breath-taking monuments were constructed. The official story is that the job was completed by a small army of highly skilled mathematicians, surveyors, stonecutters and masons with the help of several hundred thousand slaves over three generations of Egyptian Pharaohs, we suggest you come on down have a look and then grace us with your enlightened opinion.
2. SIWA OASES
Perhaps the most peculiar of all the Egyptian oases is the Siwa Oasis, and its history is also the most fascinating. Every civilization that rode its course through Egypt left its mark on the Siwa oasis, from the ancient Greek and Roman Legions to the British and German armies during the Second World War. The contrasting terrain of the surrounding desert also strikes against the lush vegetation surrounding the oasis.
The Modern town of Siwa is nestled between thick palm fronds thick with dates, lush olive orchards and beautiful walled gardens. The Siwan people carry on an ancient tradition culture language and customs. Women dress in traditional Siwan Garb extravagantly decorated with silver ornaments.
And there is plenty to see and do around the area as well and various forms of transportation to hire, from the caretta (donkey cart) to bicycles. Or just go walking through the picturesque landscape and visit the Old Shali fortress constructed entirely of mud-bricks and salt. Another worth attraction is the nearby Mountain of the Dead, an old Roman burial ground with many eerie tombs cut into the stone.
3. VALLEY OF THE KINGS AND THE TEMPLE OF QUEEN HATSHEPSUT
The Valley of Kings holds several of the most awe inspiring attractions in all of Egypt including the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Valley of Queens, Temple of Karnat and the 4000- year-old Luxor Temples. The best time to visit these temples is at night when you can feel the royal majesty of the ancient kings who once lay in these temples and tombs as they awaited passage into the afterlife.
Some of the more famous residents of these tombs were Seti I, Ramses II, Amenhotep II, and of course the boy king Tutankhamun. All of these tombs had been raided by tomb raiders many years ago except for the tomb of Tutankhamun which was discovered by Howard Carter and George Herbert in 1922.
Be sure to visit the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, or Deir al-Bahri, it’s one of Egypt’s most pristine monuments and a real beauty to behold. This fine example of craftsmanship is one of the most photographed monuments in the Egypt.
4. HURGHADA, RED SEA
Not among the attractions of an ancient civilization but majestic and well worth the visit nonetheless are the beaches of the Red Sea Coast and Hurghada. Hurghada was established just over a century ago and saw rapid growth during a tourist explosion in the 1980’s. Modern Hurghada’s tourist infrastructure has developed much from the fishing village it started out as 100 years ago, and now offers extensive tourist amenities.
Hurghada has many attractions to suit the taste of any tourist there are adventure sports for the thrill seeker and even shopping areas for those in need of retail therapy. There is an old Roman quarry that is worth visiting and if you like to windsurf than the Port of Safarga is a Mecca for international wind surfers.
The stunning beauty of Giftun Island is only a short boat ride offshore; here you can practice SCUBA diving, snorkelling or fishing. Have a relaxing BBQ on the beach as the sun sets. There is also a wonderful tour of the Red Sea’s coral reef that you will never forget.
5. ASWAN & PHILAE TEMPLE
The charming town of Aswan is set serenely on the banks of the Nile River; this city is the central point for the journey downstream to Kom Ombo by way of felucca, a graceful Egyptian sailing craft that has been used on the nile for Millennia. Traveling by felucca is the best way to fully immerse yourself in Egyptian tradition and is an adventurous way of travel.
There are a few other Islands that can be visited by felucca, Elephantine and Kitchener Island have many interesting sites to visit, including a history museum and German Archaeological Site that has made some interesting finds, there are also some great restaurants to try.
No trip to the town of Aswan would be complete without a visit to the Temple of Philae on Agilika Island, this picture perfect monument was a monument of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. The temple of Isis occupies a large part of the island and inside are many beautiful murals depicting life in Ptolemaic times.
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