Coptic Christians have several customs and traditions with a religious base. These customs and traditions consist a prominent part of the Coptic culture.
List of the customs and traditions of Copts
Women deliver their babies either in a hospital or at home. After seven days, relatives and friends visit the new mother. The father purifies the child by washing him in a washbowl and prays the “Salat el Tist”, Prayer of the Washbowl.
The whole process of baptism takes about half an hour. All participants pray on the water of baptism for the child immersed three times in water sanctified with oil. On this particular occasion, parents dressed the baby all in white.
The parents go to church after the child is born by forty days if it were a boy and eighty days if it were a girl. Baptism is immediately followed by two hours of prayer, during which the child receives the divine secrets, called “Tanawel”. The parents then celebrate with their friends and relatives as they offer them sweets.
Some married couples, who wish for pregnancy, pray in the church closest to their home. Furthermore, they promise God to donate money or achieve a good deed for a specific church if God were to make their wish come true. On the baptism day, these couples would have to fulfil their promises.
The entire marriage ceremony nowadays takes place in a church due to an official announcement from the church that all marriages would have to occur within church walls. However, in the past, Copts performed some marriages rituals at home. The newly-married couples celebrate with their relatives and friends in a restaurant, a hotel or a club, otherwise, go home straight away. Very religious teams leave for a monastery, each to their monastery to fast and pray for three successive days.
The three days of praying and fasting refer to Tobia and a woman called Tobit. Tobit married several times, and the devil killed her husband on the first night of their marriage. Tobit attained a horrible reputation, and people started gossiping about her. When Tobit married Tobia, her father and husband prayed to God to protect this marriage. One day the angel Raphael appeared to Tobia. The angel told him to pray and fast for three days to defend himself and his wife from the evil. Afterwards, the story of Tobia and Tobit became a tradition among religious people to pray and fast for three days right after their marriage.
Kamel is a “Shamaas” (deacon) and prays in the church four days a week and on Friday’s, too. His wife prays on Sundays and Wednesdays, their children on Fridays during school time and Sundays when they are off from school.
Sham El-Nessim, also known as “Smelling the Breeze”, is a spring festival celebrated on a Monday. It is famous in Egypt and consists of a part of the customs and traditions of the Egyptian people. Before Sham El-Nessim, we fast for 55 days. We do not eat any animal products during the fasting period, known as “food with a soul”, and we pray at church every day.
The Sunday before Sham El-Nessim is the day we commemorate the resurrection of Jesus and humanity. Without eating or drinking, we fast from midnight until 6 p.m. of the following day. The last week of fasting, right before Sham El-Nessim, is called Passion Week. During Passion Week, we pray in the church daily and read about the last days of Jesus in the holy book to empathize with his suffering.
On Easter Day (Sham El-Nessim), we eat fish, eggs, wear new clothes and visit one another. The Friday before Sham El-Nessim is called “The Great Friday” when the crucifixion happened. in his day, we all wear black and drink vinegar-like Jesus did when he asked for water, and they gave him vinegar drink instead.
New Year’s Eve
Before Christmas, we fast for 43 days. We can have some food during the day. However, traditions do not allow eating “food with a soul” (meat, eggs, milk, cheese, butter). However, eating fish is permitted. On the day of the feast, we go to church at 8 p.m. and pray until midnight. At midnight the lights are turned off inside the church, burning candles. Then, sweets and toys are handed out among the congregation.
When someone dies, a family member washes the deceased’s body. Then, the body is dressed in a shroud, and the family goes to church to pray for the dead. The priest pays his condolences to the family and thanks everyone who participates in the funeral service.
There is no rule specifying the day the deceased has to be buried. Each family buries their dead just as they wish. The family rarely asks a professional to do their job, a man for a man and a woman for a woman. Three days after the burial, the priests visit the family to pray, and they pour water on the floor throughout the flat. Tradition has it that relatives visit the family to mourn for forty days.