Egyptian people take selfie at a Ramadan lantern shop in Cairo, Egypt on May 28, 2016. The Ramadan lantern, also known as Fanoos, is used by Egyptian people for decoration during the month of Ramadan. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts from June 6 in 2016. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
CAIRO, June 5 (Xinhua) -- Colorful handmade glass and metal lanterns of different sizes, known as fanoos in Arabic, are a common scene in Egypt during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as stores buzz with customers despite the price hikes.
The fanoos originated in Egypt during the Fatimid caliphate hundreds of years ago and they served to light dark streets but later on became traditional children's toys for outdoor playing on Ramadan evenings.
In the neighborhood of Sayyida Zainab in Cairo, hundreds of attractive fawaneess (the plural of fanoos in Arabic) were hung for display on special stands on a busy Ramadan evening as people shopped for them either for their children or to use them as ornaments for gates, hotel lobbies or corridors, restaurants, offices and other places.
Nour Oraby, a university student in her early 20s, toured the marketplace for a fanoos until she picked a medium-sized traditional one whose decorated glass sides were painted in red, blue, yellow and green colors.
"Buying a fanoos is a must in Egypt, as it is part of the culture during the holy month and I have been buying lanterns since I was very young," the young woman told Xinhua, lamenting, however, the fact that price hikes reached the fawaneess market.
"I'm really annoyed by the rising prices of everything, not only the fanoos, especially since the income of most Egyptian families is quite modest," Oraby said.
Egypt has been suffering from an economic recession in the past five years of political turmoil which led to declining tourism, low foreign currency reserves, devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the U.S. dollar, hence rising prices of food, services and other items.
An Egyptian is seen at a Ramadan lantern shop in Cairo, Egypt on May 28, 2016. The Ramadan lantern, also known as Fanoos, is used by Egyptian people for decoration during the month of Ramadan. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts from June 6 in 2016. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
In the past decade, Egyptian merchants imported innovative technology-based, toy-like fawaneess, mostly from China.
However, this year and due to the dollar hike as well as the unfavorable economic conditions, traders of fawaneess have imported less, opting to rely more on reviving the Egyptian handmade fanoos, even introducing a new wooden fanoos.
"This year, fanoos prices rose for several reasons, including the dollar hike. Therefore, the sales are less than last year's which is why we decreased import of fawaneess as we understand customers' financial situation," Umm Abdullah, a fanoos seller in her 30s told Xinhua.
Umm Abdullah said she has been working in the seasonal fanoos business for 10 years now, aware that even the poor buy a fanoos because it is a Ramadan tradition and it entertains children as they play with it especially in poorer neighborhoods.
Mahmoud Fathy, another Ramadan lantern salesman, said that the country's economic conditions made people choose cheaper Ramadan lanterns since they will only use it during the month of Ramadan.
"People now tend to buy the traditional Ramadan lantern due to its cheaper price and its uniqueness which is unlike imported toy-like and animal-like lanterns. The newly-introduced wooden lantern is becoming very popular this year as it is both affordable and durable," the 45-year-old man told Xinhua at the Sayyida Zainab marketplace.
Ramadan lanterns are a source of joy for Egyptians regardless of their age.
They are no longer considered mere toys for children as currently most men buy the traditional Ramadan lantern as a gift for their fiancées or wives and some housewives buy it to light up their homes with unique traditional and colorful lights.
"My husband buys me a fanoos every year and I keep all of them at home. I will always ask him to buy me one even when I get old," said Shaimaa Zakariya, a 26-year-old housewife.
Zakariya added that the economic situation is difficult and most families can hardly afford lantern prices which start from 2.8 U.S. dollars - a financial burden for a family with four or five children.
While holding a traditional glass and metal Ramadan lantern in her hand, Zakariya smiled and said that "after all, Ramadan is meaningless for me without a traditional fanoos," stressing that the traditional handmade fanoos reminded her of sweet childhood Ramadan memories.