You simply know its Ramadan when the streets are lit with myriad brightly colored lanterns, tables of the merciful spring up on pavements under colorful tents, homes are decked with joyful streamers and mosques are full to overflowing during the evening’s Taraweeh prayers.
During Ramadan in Egypt, there is a festive feel to the country, phone calls, greetings, messages and warm hellos and wishes for having a blessed month fly around as the month approaches, and there are lights and lanterns, called Fanous strung up throughout the towns and cities adorning shops and supermarkets. This Fanous is traditionally made of tin and colored glass, with a candle inside. More modern examples are battery operated. This Fanous or lantern is a must for every kid, and in the past children played in the streets with their lanterns, singing "wahawy ya wahawy" an old Ramadan song.
You could find cart sellers of oriental sweets, dates, and cold drinks such as hibiscus fill the streets and you could hear Ramadan songs such as Ahlaan Ramadan which means welcome Ramadan played everywhere. You could see people and children helping each others happily in decorating their homes, district and the nearby mosque.
You'll find friends and colleagues exchanging booklets about Ramadan to remind each others of its virtues and blessings and how it's a chance to get closer to God and seek his bounties and purify our bodies, minds and souls. You'll find hundreds of charitable institutions around the cities becoming extremely active and doing announcements for accepting donations.
You could also find friends and colleagues whether in work, college or even schools racing to bring a long-gone smile to the faces of millions of underprivileged by collecting donations from each other so they can provide them with free Ramadan bags (aid packages during the holy fasting month packed with basic commodities such as sugar, salt, edible oil, beans, and rice)
You’d think Ramadan means less food, less cooking, less eating. But no, not here in Egypt.
Ramadan means quite the opposite for many Egyptians. There are actually special dishes and deserts made especially in Ramadan; people rush to the stores to stock up. Others are seen queuing up to buy delicious sweets that are traditionally eaten during the holy month. Because people have been fasting all day from dawn to sunset, they believe they need to overdose on their sugar intake.
Egyptians celebrate this month with all its aspects: the spiritual rituals that conflate fasting, praying and participation in charitable activities; and the social side that includes Iftar and Sohour feasts, television serials -as more than half of the serials produced by the Egyptian TV are broadcasted during Ramadan for the first time-. Throughout Egypt’s history, some traditions have survived the years with each generation adding its timeless touch like the tradition of the Fanous.
Another traditional practice starts immediately after sunset, which is announced to people through all mosques by the ritual "azan", or the call for prayers. Once, beginning in the 16th Century, it was the habit of the Egyptian government tofire a canon which could be heard throughout Cairo to announce end of the daily fast. This loud shot was fired from the Citadel over the "el-Moqattam" mountains. However, the tradition was carried throughout the years and even when the tradition of firing the canon was temporarily stopped; its recorded sound was aired on national radio and TV stations at Iftar time.
The "Iftar" meal is often very rich. Any type of food might be served, but traditionally the desert almost always includes "Konafa" or "Qatayef".
Nuts are consumed as a snack, together with a traditional drink "Qamar el-Deen" which is made of apricot.
In Cairo and other cities, families and friends traditionally gather around the table close to sunset, usually listening to Quran verses or a prayer read out on television as they wait for the evening call to prayer, which is when they can break their fast. This evening meal Iftar is a happy occasion, which often breaks into a lively party celebration. At the same time, volunteers all over the city hand out free dates and juices to passers-by and to drivers at traffic intersections, while whole streets are given over to huge open-air restaurants which are special tables of free food and drink set for the poor and the needy or passers-by, usually in a tent in the street, called Ma'edat Al Rahman which translates literally as Table of (God) the Gracious (Merciful). Business hours change to accommodate the fast.
In the old days, the tradition was for a man called a "mesaharaty" to walk down the streets before dawn with a drum. He would wake up the people by singing and calling their names. The mesaharaty was not paid a fixed salary but received donations, and though this profession is now extinct, amateurs continue to practice the tradition.
Most people prefer to spend at least the first day in an extended family reunion, gathering in the home of the grand parents. After the first few days, people start to go out after "iftar". Hence, many gatherings between families, friends or colleagues take place for the main meal, and for socializing afterwards.