Monday, January 23, 2006

What is a Coptic Mulid?

The best way to describe a mulid to a Catholic is to think of a saint's feast day. Most mulids are Islamic and celebrate the birthday of a holy person. In the Coptic faith mulids are usually on the day the holy person died, and celebrate their birth into the kingdom of heaven. Mulids can also celebrate events, such as the Flight of The Holy Family into Egypt.

As I read about mulids, they reminded me a lot of the grand southern Italian festivals on feast days. In fact, I find many folk religious practices of the Coptic Church must have influenced the meditation area.

At a mulid miraculous manifestations are expected. Healings, apparitions and other miracles are seen as a divine acknowledgment of the holy day. Mulids also serve as a place for authorized rites of the church. Baptisms are common at mulids.

Candles and offerings similar to ex voto offerings are present at the place of veneration for the saint’s relics. For those who don't know, an ex voto offering is an offering left at a place of veneration in thanks for a healing or miracle. Many times, in western culture, there are small replicas of a healed body part or the crutches you used to use.

Sometimes Mulids can lead to a great deal of folk superstition. This, however, is common in Italian festivals and is not isolated to the Middle Eastern cultures.

Mulids, unlike some Italian festivals, are inclusive. Official Church celebrations strictly define participants. Since most of these are Sacraments, that is totally understandable. But mulids, especially those along the Nile Delta are attended by Coptic and Muslims alike. The community gathers to celebrate as one. Two of the most inclusive mulids are the mulids of St. George and St. Damiana. At these folk festivals, all are welcome. I do not know how true this currently is since the Egyptian government is opressive toward the Coptic Christians.

In some Italian folk festivals there is a regional rift that separates the customs of the Northern Italians from the Southern Italians. The rift is widened by other historical problems between the two groups.

My point in all of this is that we celebrate our holy men, women and events in very similar fashions. Even if the outward customs are different, our core reasons: The human need to celebrate with each other and share what we care about with each other is the same.

When I celebrate St. Joseph's Day I invite friends who are Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Neo-Pagan. The only rule is that you respect what the day is for and respect my guests. Last year we talked about vastly different politics and religious beliefs, and no one got upset with each other.

All over the world we celebrate. This week, let us pray that we may celebrate together.

Most of this info is from, "Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity" by Otto Meinardus.

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