When we travelled in Egypt, a country that is 90% Muslim, people often wished us a Merry Christmas. But our Luxor tour guide, Nevein, couldn’t figure out why there were so many people around at this time of year until we pointed out it was the Christmas holiday, which she had forgotten. What was a bit surprising at first about her not remembering it was Christmas is that she is Christian.

The 10% of Egyptians who aren’t Muslim are almost entirely Coptic Christian, which is an Eastern Orthodox church. Most Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar, so they celebrate Christmas on January 7. For Nevein, Christmas is today, not two weeks ago.

While Amy was being charmed into buying 43 scarves from John, a tout at the souq in Aswan, I chatted with Joshua, a boy of about 12 who first claimed to be the owner of the stall but later said it belonged to his father and uncle. John and Joshua aren’t terribly Egyptian sounding names, because they, along with their names, are Coptic. As we talked, Joshua pointed to a man selling balloons in different shapes including one that looked like Santa Claus, and said, “Papa Noel.” Same person, different name.

Those are just a couple of the differences between Western and Eastern Christmas. Before we left for Egypt, we wrote up a posting explaining some of the differences between an American and an Irish Christmas, which we intended to set up to post on the blog on Christmas day. Unfortunately, that last day before travelling was so hectic we didn’t have time to get that done, so we’re taking advantage of this second Christmas to post it now.

Top ten differences between Irish and American Christmas:

10. America has Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Stores have their biggest sales of the year that day, with many stores opening in the wee hours to attract more customers. In Ireland, there is nothing quite like the madhouse that is Black Friday (so named because it’s the day stores finally make it “in the black,” or show a profit for the year).

9. Ireland has St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas. St. Stephen’s Day and Christmas are the two bank holidays in December, so of course the banks took three and a half days off last year. I suspect the percentage of Americans who could identify when St. Stephen’s Day is would register in the single digits.

8. America has Jose Feliciano‘s “Feliz Navidad.” An Irish friend had only just heard the song for the first time recently, whereas I sang it every year in Spanish class, and it‘s played quite a bit on American radio.

7. Ireland has the Pogue’s “Fairytale of New York.” According to at least one person on The People’s Republic of Cork forum, it’s the best but most overplayed Christmas song here in Ireland. Amy and I had never heard it before coming here, but I guess that’s just because most American radio stations don’t like playing Christmas songs with lyrics like, “You scumbag, you maggot.”

6. America has “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “A Christmas Story.” We’ve looked and looked, but can’t find “A Christmas Story” in Ireland and no Irish person we‘ve talked to has seen it. When a rugby team mate mentioned having just bought a puny pathetic Christmas tree, I said it was like “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” She looked puzzled and asked, “Charlie Wilson’s War?” Not only had she never seen the show, she didn’t even know Charlie Brown.

5. Ireland has Christmas Pantos. Panto is short for pantomime, and a panto is a musical comedy play normally performed around Christmas (although the stories usually have nothing to do with Christmas and are adaptations of fairy tales). In Cork this year, “Little Red Riding Hood” was performed at the Everyman Theatre.

4. America has more Christmas music on the radio. (Actually, there’s just more music on the radio in the States, where stations with call numbers like 98.6 might have 98 minutes of just music. Here there seems to be a law that DJs can’t play more than two songs without wishing someone a happy birthday). When listening to the radio here we occasionally hear a Christmas song, but in America many stations switch to all Christmas music right after Thanksgiving (near the end of November).

3. Ireland has more Christmas parties. This Christmas season, Amy could attend six work sponsored parties: one each for the speech therapists, the autism spectrum disorder team, the therapy department, the office she works in, and two for all the employees of the Cope Foundation. Some of them include expensive dinners, costing €30- €40 each, not including the drinks, which can cost quite a lot at an event like The Twelve Pubs of Christmas, as you can imagine. Even the pubs have Christmas parties for their customers.

2. America, have a Merry Christmas!

1. Ireland, have a Happy Christmas!

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