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Hella: السّلام عليكم everyone
Simon: Simon here. All About Lesson 9: Culture, Tradition, Holidays, and Important Dates.
Hella: We are going to talk about the top five important dates during the calendar year.
Simon: Which calendar are we talking about today?
Hella: That's a very good question. Thank you, Simon. In Egypt and in most, actually, of the Arabic countries, we go by two calendars — the Gregorian calendar, which goes by the solar system, and the Islamic calendar, which goes by the lunar system or the moon. So we're going talk today about both, so that everyone can understand what we're talking about.
Simon: Ok. Great. So let's talk about those top five days then in reverse order. The fifth most important day in Egypt?
Hella: شمّ النّسيم
Simon: And what day is this on the Gregorian calendar?
Hella: It's not a specific day. Always the Monday after Easter Sunday according to the Coptic calendar. This day is called شمّ النّسيم in Arabic.
Simon: I see. Since when has this day been famous? What is the exact date or the estimated date that this day started to be celebrated?
Hella: Nearly 4700 years ago.
Simon: Is this an official holiday?
Hella: I'm glad to say yes.
Simon: So what happened that made this day so important? Was there an event that took place for this day to become famous?
Hella: This day was celebrated at the beginning by the pharaonic people and it moved through time. Now, it's celebrated by all Egyptians as the day when spring starts. The Copts celebrate it in a more religious way.
Simon: Why was this holiday important to people a long time ago? Why is this holiday important now?
Hella: It's part of a very long and ongoing tradition. People get together or go out and it's a good opportunity to catch up with others, plus enjoy the beautiful nature.
Simon: So let's talk about the traditions and rituals. What kind of traditions and rituals are associated with this date? When did it first become important and what do people typically do?
Hella: I think ever since it has been known, people have been doing the same thing — eating herring, color the eggs, go out to enjoy nature. With Copts, it's the end of their fasting.
Simon: Where do people go on this day?
Hella: They go out to open spaces, parks, the Nile. They eat outside. Kids play. Parents chat. In most cases, entire families would go out together. Young people go to the movies afterwards.
Simon: Ok. Has celebrating this day changed? Is celebrating it different today? What do people typically do on this day?
Hella: Well, between the pharaonic, Copts and now Egyptians, it has been more or less the same. Only the name of the day changed just a little bit. But everything remains as it is.
Simon: What food do people tend to eat on this day?
Hella: They eat herring, salted fish with green onions, rocket, and bread. It's really delicious.
Simon: It sounds refreshing. I love herring. Ok. And the fourth most important day in Egypt is?
Hella: The Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.
Simon: And what day is this on the Gregorian calendar?
Hella: It's never the same on the Gregorian calendar. It changes every year, because it's calculated according to the Islamic or the lunar calendar. It's on the third month of the Islamic calendar, ربيع الأوّل. This day is called المولد in Arabic.
Simon: Since when has this day been famous? What is the exact or estimated date that this day started to be celebrated?
Hella: That's a tricky question. Nobody knows exactly when the first celebration of مولد النّبي took place, but we find it being celebrated during the Fatimid and the Ayyubid era, when it was considered a big event attended by the government officials and Muslim spiritual leaders.
Simon: Is this an official holiday, too?
Hella: Like all very important dates, yes it is.
Simon: Why was it important to people a long time ago? Why is it important now?
Hella: You see, Simon, though Muslims in general are aware of مولد not being a truly Islamic custom, it's still considered a happy occasion where families and friends spend time together and eat good food. More like a tradition now, a reason to get together.
Simon: So tell me about the traditions and rituals associated with this day. When did it first become important, and what do people typically do?
Hella: The problem of events follows traditions rather than religious obligations, preparation of the مولد commences days earlier by the مولديّة , which are groups of people traveling from one Milad to the other providing the more social services. They put up the swings, cafes, and booths selling sweets, toys, and even clothes. The lighting installments, loudspeakers, and traders increase daily along with the number of visitors coming from different parts of the country for this special occasion.
Simon: Wow! That sounds really interesting. Is there some sort of a highlight or the مولد ?
Hella: The highlight of El Milad is اللّيلة الكبيرة or "the big night", the last day of the celebration. The Sufis and sheikhs dressed in colorful costumes will be at their most energetic, parading through the streets and performing the ذكر, that's ritual dance, swaying back and forth, moving their bodies and speeding up to the rhythmic beating of the drum and tambourine, as the منشدين or singers perform the devotional chants. Prayers, music, and singing from different tents fill the night air till dawn.
Simon: Where do people go on this day?
Hella: Mostly, they try to visit one of the big mosques that belongs to one of the Prophet’s descendants. If it's not too far anyway. But if it is, any big mosque that holds the celebration ritual is great.
Simon: Tell me about the food. What are the types of food that people eat on this day?
Hella: I'm glad you asked. Well, that would be حلاوة المولد , special sweets offered during El Milad, hummus (that's chickpeas), and most of all عروسة المولد , that's candy doll. It's made for children. For boys, we have a candy horse or حصان المولد . We just love desserts and this is a great opportunity to eat all you want with no guilt.
Simon: Ok, Hella. So what about some phrases associated with this day? What can someone say to a friend?
Hella: That would be كلّ سنة ِونْتَ طيّب or كلّ سنة ِونْتِ طيّبة addressing a man or a woman. It's used basically in any event that's used once a year, so birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Easter, Prophet's birthday.
Simon: That's a very useful phrase that I have to learn. Very helpful indeed. What do people wear on this day? How do they dress?
Hella: Nothing special, but some men who go to perform الذّكر they wear جلبيّة but that's all really.
Simon: Wonderful. Now, the third most important day in Egypt is?
Hella: Christmas!
Simon: Ok, and what day is this on the Gregorian calendar?
Hella: That's a very important question, Simon. Egyptian Orthodox Christians or Coptic Christians, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on January 7th a date equivalent to the 29th day of the Coptic month كيهك or خياك . Of course, in many other countries, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. Those celebrating Christmas on this date is not unique to the Coptics.
Simon: So where do the differences in dates come from?
Hella: The differences in the dates come from the differences between the Coptic and Gregorian calendars. This means, for example, that beginning March 1st on 2100 A.D., the Coptic Christians will celebrate the Christmas on the 8th day of January in relation to the western calendar.
Simon: Does it have a certain name in Arabic?
Hella: Yes. This day is called عيد ميلاد المجيد in Arabic.
Simon: Since when has this date been famous? What is the exact date that it started to be celebrated?
Hella: It has been celebrated the same as in everywhere else around the world, nearly 400 A.D. and continued until today. I believe that goes for all over the world.
Simon: And the all-important question. Is this an official holiday?
Hella: Yes, it is a holiday for Copts and Muslims.
Simon: Great. So, what kind of traditions and rituals are associated with this day? When did it first become important and what do people typically do?
Hella: Ok. Let me answer it one question at a time. All Coptic feasts come after a period of fasting. They may eat normally, but the type of food that is consumed to limited to non-animal products. Therefore, meat, fish, eggs, and milk are forbidden. The fast leading up to Christmas is called Lent fasting and traditionally lasts for 43 days, celebrating the 40 days of fast Christmas shopping at a Christmas bazaar in Egypt and the three days of fast associated with the miracle of moving the mountain of Al Mokattam. That's purely Egyptian event.
Simon: When does it really start?
Hella: Much of the Christmas celebration actually begins in the last week leading up to Christmas. This is when much of the cooking takes place. Homes are decorated with lights and Christmas trees. Some Christmas trees are real, but many are artificial.
Simon: Do people go to specific places on this day?
Hella: Nowadays the Coptic nativity is celebrated by a special midnight service in the church, followed by the ringing of the church's bells. Some Coptic Christians travel to various churches that are traditionally considered to be associated with the route of the holy family as they traveled through Egypt, but the largest service is held by the Coptic Pope in Saint Mark's.
Simon: Is Christmas morning important? What happens in it?
Hella: On Christmas morning, people visit friends and neighbors. Children are given العيديّة , a feast gift consisting of small sum of money to buy sweets, toys, and ice cream, but we do that anyways in all religious celebrations.
Simon: How about the food? Tell me about the food.
Hella: The food question! Well Copts make special sweet biscuits for the nativity that is decorated with the cross. In fact, it's the same kahk that Muslims make for عيد الفطر . In the Egyptian Coptic church, a special bread called قربان is given to the people during the service in the church, and it's also available outside the church after the service. It's made in very large quantities for the big festivals. قربان bread is decorated with a cross in the middle, surrounded by twelve dots. Of course, those dots represent the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
Simon: What happens after that? I'm really interested to know.
Hella: Well, after the service, families go home to break their fast and children receive new clothes and gifts. The meal is called فتّة and usually consists of meat and rice.
Simon: What do people wear on this day?
Hella: They just wear new clothes to express happiness, but nothing special really.
Simon: Ok. Now counting down, the second most important day in Egypt is?
Hella: Festival of Breaking the Feast, or عيد الفطر.
Simon: What day is this on the Gregorian calendar?
Hella: Although عيد الفطر is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar (that's the first day of شوّال , the tenth month in the lunar calendar), but of course it will change on the Gregorian calendar.
Simon: So it lands on a different day every year?
Hella: Yes, the date on the Gregorian calendar falls approximately 11 days earlier each successive year, since the Islamic calendar is lunar and the Gregorian calendar is solar. Eid may also vary from country to country, depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not. This is very important for Muslims.
Simon: What's it called in Arabic?
Hella: This day is called عيد الفطر.
Simon: Since when has this date been famous? What's the exact date when it started to be celebrated?
Hella: Muslims started celebrating this day during the days of the prophet Mohammed. He told them it's a day to be celebrated and to be happy at, so I would say during the first days of Islam, around 1420 years ago.
Simon: I think I know the answer for this already, but is this an official holiday?
Hella: Well, if you're guessing than it would be correct. Yes, it's actually a three-day holiday in Egypt.
Simon: Wow! Three days. So what events took place for this day to become famous?
Hella: Muslims are commanded by the Koran to complete their fast on the last day of Ramadan. It's celebrated after fasting the month of Ramadan as a matter of giving thanks and gratitude to almighty Allah.
Simon: So it's not historically related to anything?
Hella: No. It has no connection to any historical event, nor is it related to the changes of seasons or cycle of agriculture. It's not a festival related to any way toward worldly affairs. Its significance is purely spiritual. It's the day when Muslims thank God for giving them the will, the strength, and the endurance to observe fast and obey his commandment during the holy month of Ramadan.
Simon: What do people typically do on this day?
Hella: The Eid day starts with a small snack followed by Eid prayer (that's صلاة العيد) in congregation attended by men, women, and children. Afterwards, neighbors, friends, and relatives start greeting each other. Before the Eid prayer begins, every Muslim who's able must pay the زكاة الفطر an alms for the month of Ramadan. This equates to about two kilograms of basic foodstuffs — wheat, barley, dates, or raisins — or its cash equivalent. It's typically collected at the mosque. This is distributed to needy local Muslims, prior to the start of the Eid prayer.
Simon: Interesting. Where do people go on this day?
Hella: Since most Egyptians live in close proximity to Nile, felucca Nile rites is one common feature of Eid celebration in Egyptian villages, towns and cities. For a lot of families from working neighborhoods, عيد الفطر or عيد الفطر celebration also includes picnics in green areas including parks, zoos, botanical gardens, and even green islands on major roads.
Simon: That sounds great. I love Nile feluccas. Also, I've seen that children wear their new clothes.
Hella: Yes, and they go out to amusement parks, gardens, or public courtyards based on how much their عيديّة affords. Again the عيديّة is the small amount of money they get for the Eid. The amusement parks can range from the huge ones on the outskirts of Cairo to small, mobile neighborhood rides consisting of swings, much like a neighborhood carnival.
Simon: Has celebrating this day changed? Is celebrating it different from how it used to be?
Hella: Well, Eid is a time for family gatherings. Since a lot of Egyptian city dwellers are first- or second-generation immigrants from towns and villages, those gatherings can involve travelling. It's customary for children to receive an عيديّة from their grownup relatives or parents, of course. This is a small sum of money that the children receive to spend on all their activities throughout Eid.
Simon: And the food question again. What do people eat?
Hella: Ok. Now, the family gatherings involves cooking and eating all kinds of Egyptian food, but the item most associated with عيد الفطر are kahk. That's plural and the single is kahka. Now that's cookies filled with nuts and covered with sugar powder. Egyptians either bake it at home or buy it in the bakery.
Simon: What are some phrases associated with this day? What can someone say to a friend?
Hella: The most common greeting is عيد مبارك . That's "Have a blessed Eid," and عيد سعيد , which is "Happy feast."
Simon: What do people wear on this day? Anything specific? Does it have any significance?
Hella: Children always wear new clothes, but I have to admit, even adults like to wear new clothes as well. Who can ever resist that?
Simon: Now moving to the most important day. Number one in Egypt is the...
Hella: Big feast, عيد الاضحى , Festival of Sacrifice, or Greater Byrum.
Simon: And Hella, what day is this on the Gregorian calendar?
Hella: Ok, again, it changes on the Gregorian calendar. On the Islamic calendar عيد الاضحىannually falls on the tenth day of the month of ذو الحجّة . That's, again, the Islamic calendar.
Simon: So it changes?
Hella: While عيد الاضحى is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year. Each year, عيد الاضحى , like other Islamic holidays falls on one or two different Gregorian dates in different parts of the world, due to the fact that the boundary of crescent visibility is different from the International Date Line.
Simon: So tell me about the significance of this day.
Hella: Well, it's a religious festival celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ismael or Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. However, God provided a ram in place, once Abraham demonstrated his willingness to follow God's commands. عيد الاضحى occurs the day after the pilgrims conducting Haj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims worldwide) descend from Mount Arafat.
Simon: What do people typically do on this day? What kind of traditions and rituals are there?
Hella: Well, women and children are expected to dress in their finest clothing to perform Eid prayers in a large congregation in an open area, not in a mosque. Muslims who can afford to do so, sacrifice their best domestic animals — usually sheep, but also camels, cows, and goats — as a symbol of Abraham's sacrifice. The sacrificed animal is called أضحية . The regular of charitable practice of the Muslim community are demonstrated during عيد الاضحى by a concerted effort to see that no impoverished person is left without sacrificed food during this day. Distributing meat among people is considered an essential part of the festival. During this period, as well as chanting تكبير out loud before the Eid prayer on the first day and after prayers throughout the four days of the Eid. In some countries, families that do not own livestock, can make a contribution to a charity that will provide meat to those who are in need.
Simon: Where do people tend to spend this day?
Hella: They visit family members and friends. Children wear their new clothes and go out to amusement parks, gardens, or public courtyards based on how much the عيديّة affords.
Simon: What food is normally eaten on this day?
Hella: Well, again with the very important question of food. People usually eat Fattah. It's a mixture of meat cubes embedded in rice and crusted pita pieces in soup. It's a traditional meal that is enjoyed by all Egyptians and is considered the most famous dish in Egypt and, I dare say, the Arabic world as well.
Simon: What can you say to a friend on this day?
Hella: Well, you can say on عيد مبارك , عيد الاضحى "Blessed Festival," and then, in return, you may respond by saying تقبّل الله منّا و منكم , which means "May Allah accept the good deeds from us and from you."
Simon: Is there anything people specific that people wear on this day?
Hella: No, not really. Just children wear their new clothes and that's all.
Simon: Well, Hella, this has been really fun. Thanks, guys, for listening.
Hella: Thanks, everyone! See you on another All About Arabic. مع السّلامة
Simon: Bye-bye.

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Which date would you like the most?

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