The Ramadan Lantern: Fanous
You know how during Christmas every home, every street, shop and house is decorated with a Christmas tree. The Fanous for Egyptians during Ramadan is exactly like the tree. It comes in endless shapes, colors, materials and sizes. Nowadays they even invented the singing fanous, the electronic Fanous, but still my favourite is the traditional one made of copper and colored glass and lightened with a candle.
There are endless stories as for the origin of the Fanous. What is sure though is that the tradition started during the reign of the Fatimid in Egypt in the 10th century. One of the story is that while the Fatimid Caliph was exploring the Ramadan crescent before the start of the month, kids would accompany him in the streets during the night holding lanterns and singing joyful songs to welcome the holy month. Now the Fanous is not only for kids, but even every adult in the family would buy his own every year.
Ramadan Charity Tables
If it's your first time to witness Ramadan in Egypt, don't be surprised to see tables spread in the streets with free food and drinks. These are charity tables that can be seen not only poor neighborhoods but also in the upper class ones. Some families would set up these tables during the whole month, serving quality food and drink for by passers, beggars and those with limited income.
This year the Egyptian city of Alexandria set a new world Guinness record when it hosted the longest food table over 4km on the city's Cornish, that fed over 7000 Muslims breaking their fast.
Ramadan TV Series
Think Egyptians would spend most of their after Iftar time retreating in a mosque or at home only praying? Not really! After a long day of 16 hours fasting, Egyptians look for ways to entertain themselves, please their hearts and reward themselves. The TV series industry is at its peak during the month of Ramadan. What is produced during the whole year, is with no exaggeration equivalent to the number of series produced during this month alone.
Watching one after another, Ramadan series are not merely limited to entertainment, but they become a subject of discussion, debates and analysis. Nowhere you would go whether during gatherings, at work, or even in public transportation without hearing Egyptians discussing this year soap operas: the subjects, production, decoration, actors, giving advices on what to watch and what not to, and also briefing their friends and families about the stories of the episodes they might have missed. At the end, who would be able to watch 30 episodes of over 50 soap operas in a month!
It's not really tent in the traditional term, but Ramadan tents are one of the most sophisticated and luxurious places where Egyptian would gather after Iftar to smoke their Chicha, have a cup coffee, deserts or sohour (night meal) and listening to some oriental music. More than that, it is also a great occasion to encounter all those high school friends and people whom you didn't meet since ages. Organizing outings for a group of 20 or 30 people is typically Egyptian during that month, and I have to say one of the most charming things of Ramadan is that it gave you time to remember all these long lost friends and family members and reconnect with them.
There's no better place to do it then while discovering the new trends of Ramadan tents. Most of Egyptians would stay out almost every night till 12 or 1 am. For those who are not fans of these tents, they would head to a local café or Old Cairo to enjoy one of the most peculiar spiritual atmosphere this month has to offer, attending a whirling dervishes or oud performance and end their night by praying the Fajr (Dawn prayer) in Al Hussein Mosque.
Ramadan Working Hours
I know this is one of the main aspects for which Egyptians are criticized by foreigners. That working hours are reduced by 2 or 3 hours during that month and even the remaining hours when we are supposed to work, we are not functioning as normal due to lack of coffee, sleep and smoking. But come one, isn't it the same two weeks before Christmas in Europe? Work is almost on hold while everyone is preparing for their vacation? Who said that humans are machines! Why can't we have one month per year to work in more relaxed environment, without stress and focus on our spirituality and inner peace for a while so we can resume with full power afterwards :)
Ramadan Wake-Up Man: Messaharaty
I can hardly find a synonym of this term in English, but the Messaharaty is a man who would walk across the streets one or two hours before dawn, tapping on a drum to wake up people so they can have their sohour (night meal). The concept was invented by Egyptians during the early days of Islam. The tradition was spread in other Arab countries at that time, but unfortunately doesn't exist anymore, except in Egypt, in some of the neighborhoods. The Messaharaty is doing this kind word on a voluntary basis, but some could volunteer and pass him a small amount of money or just some food so he can have his sohour as well.
Ramadan Sweets Egyptian Style
Those who have visited before countries of the Levant or Turkey would most probably be familiar with the Kenafah (pastry that resembles the Angel hair pasta, cooked with cheese or cream) and the Qatayef (dumplings filled filled with cream or nuts). In Egypt however, we consume this typically oriental sweets only during the month of Ramadan, as it is believed to curb hunger (not sure it does though as it's too sugary). And since we consume it with exorbitant amounts everyday during the whole month, Egyptians put there special touch on it and become innovative.
With every year in new trend coming up in pastry shops: Kenafeh or Qatayef with Mango, with Nutella, with brownies and this year the Red Velvet is highly trending all across the country. Let's hope they won't combine it with Ice Cream next year.
RAMADAN KARIM :)