Any Egyptian will gladly tell you stories of childhood trips in search for the perfect fanous, the traditional Ramadan lantern. A few days before the holidays began, while parents were frantically running their last errands with their kids, one of the traditional stops would be at a stall full of glittering and colourful merchandise to catch the eyes of the children. The next thing you knew, you had a brand new fanous. There are different kinds of lanterns: plastic ones that play songs, and those that are lit with a candle, etc. No matter what they look like, they remain one of the main symbols of the holy month.
There are several stories surrounding the origin of the fanous. All agree, however, that it first appeared during the Fatimid period, and that it is a 100% Egyptian tradition that spread to other countries in the Arab world.
One story tells of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Moez’s welcome to Cairo in the Hijri year 362 (972 CE) It is said that Egyptians went out to celebrate his arrival, during the night and in Ramadan, holding torches and lanterns. Therefore, ever since, Ramadan has been associated with the fanous.
Another story tell of how children kids used to go out at night and light the way for the caliph with their lanterns as he strolled around the city, and that during Ramadan they would sing songs to celebrate the arrival of the holy month.
In Egypt the streets are usually flooded with stalls filled with lanterns in all shapes and sizes in the days leading up to Ramadan. The smaller ones are bought for children, while larger ones adorn the entrances of buildings, balconies or are used as a light source in the home during the month. From the cheapest made-in-China plastic lanterns to the carefully handcrafted traditional metal lanterns, Ramadan in Egypt is not the same without the lights that shine from a fanous.