Egypt is predominantly Meuslim, but a large minority of Coptic Christians and a melange of other religions make the country an exciting destination for religious, secular and ancient cultural festivals. For many of these celebrations, people pour out into the streets wearing traditional costumes to enjoy impromptu song and dance performances and eat traditional foods.
Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr
Ramadan is a month of fasting during daylight hours in which Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunup to sunset. The mood during the day can be somber, with reduced business hours to allow time for spiritual contemplation. The first day after Ramadan begins a three- or four-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr. After the final fast-breaking (iftar), people often celebrate all night. The next day everyone puts on new clothes to join street festivities with small fairs and open markets while families and friends get together to exchange gifts and sweets. Muslim holidays are not on fixed dates because they are on the lunar calendar, so they move back by about 11 days each year.
Leylet en Nuktah
Ancient Egyptians worshiped the Nile because of the yearly bounty it brought, and beautiful women were sacrificed to appease the gods and bring on the flooding. Modern Egyptians still celebrate the yearly rise of the river on June 17, since the flooding is what brings the silt that feeds the Delta's rich soil. Instead of sacrifices, modern Egyptians picnic and camp along the edges of the river or spend the night out on the streets with family and friends. At sunset, women put out balls of dough representing the people in the house, and in the morning the cracks are examined to make predictions about each person's longevity and fortune.
Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, and most Egyptians regardless of religion join in the festivities, especially in Cairo and other Coptic regions. The week before Christmas, homes and businesses are decked out with colorful lights and decorations, and there are manger scenes and special holiday bazaars in the streets. Following the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, people gather to celebrate and eat a traditional dish of rice, garlic and meat soup called fata.
"Sham al-Naseem" means "sniffing the breeze." Egyptians of all religions celebrate this ancient holiday to mark the coming of spring on March 21 by spending the day in the countryside or in parks for picnics; some have their picnic on a boat trip on the Nile. The picnic baskets are loaded with the traditional foods of this holiday, including dried or pickled fish and dishes made with midamis or fuul (kidney beans). Food vendors, dancers and musicians also fill the streets to entertain the public on this festive day.
Moulid an-Nabi is a major Islamic festival that marks the birth of the prophet Mohammed. Most cities host parades and processions on this day, and the streets are filled with dancers, acrobats, drummers and musicians. Families join together to greet each other and exchange gifts before heading out to explore the street fairs. Traditional sweets like halawet el-moulid (a type of helvah or candy) and candy dolls called are sold from roadside stands as well as hummus (a puree made from chick peas), the traditional food of Moulid an-Nabi.
*culled from www.traveltips.usatoday.com