Christmas celebrations around the world are associated with the appearance of Santa Claus or “Papa Noel”, who distributes presents among the children, making them happy.
The popular myth of Papa Noel is that he is a fat, long-bearded man, so the character has always been predominantly male. But surprisingly, an Egyptian woman broke this stereotype, stepping up to prove that women are capable of playing any role.
She wore a Santa Claus costume, after turning it into a dress, and carried a red chocolate-filled bag, heading for the street in a simple attempt to spread joy and see people smiling ahead of Orthodox Christmas on 7 January.
Many ask who is this woman? What is her goal? From where did her idea originate? Many questions come to mind when you see the photos of Mama Noel, so Daily News Egypt sat down with the woman, whose real name is Nayera El Serafy, to answer all these questions.
Who is she?
The Egyptian woman is called Nayera El Serafy, a 2010 graduate from the faculty of commerce, English section of Cairo University. She worked as a trainer at a call centre for four years and then she decided to break the rules and her routine and resign from her job.
“I found that I was always under pressure that made me spend more than half of my salary on buying drugs and vitamins, so I decided to do what I love, and chose to be happy,” El Serafy said.
She explained that her health was not good and she was unhappy, saying that she gave her life to work in order to take some “coloured papers”—money—while she had no time to spend it.
When she left work, she took many courses and joined many workshops to learn a range of skills, including, and not limited to, a workshop for playing the drums, sewing course, drawing course, singing, photography, and acting workshops. Meanwhile, she became athletic and began playing duathlon (running and biking).
In this context, El Serafy explained that she completed a half marathon in Alex, running 21 kilometres and said that she will participate in the next marathon, which will be the first full marathon in Egypt, at a distance of 42 kilometres.
“Meanwhile, in cycling, I rode 105 kilometres from Cairo to Fayoum,” she added.
Moreover, her theatre group won the second place award among 40 theatre groups in the competition of El Sawy Culture Wheel for theatre.
Concerning her resignation, she said, “my family didn’t support me at first but when they found that I succeeded in many fields that I love, they began to support me,” El Serafy said
Idea of turning Papa Noel to Mama Noel came from Gehad Saad and El Serafy
El Serafy said that a friend of hers called Gehad Saad, who runs the Facebook page “Robabkia photography”, decided to create a new photography project, on the sidelines of the sad events that happened in Egypt last year, like the bombing at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral.
She continued that Saad decided to distribute presents which were chocolates to passers-by in the streets and photograph the feedback and the reactions of the people. Then, she thought to use Mama Noel to distribute these gifts.
El Serafy explained that Saad chose her to help him on this project, as she is known among her friends to have a wardrobe which is full of costumes of different characters, as she likes costume play (cosplay).
It is worth mentioning that cosplay is a hobby in which participants, called cosplayers, wear costumes and fashion accessories to portray a specific character.
The goal was to send a positive image about Egypt
El Serafy said that Saad uploaded photos of her while distributing the chocolates, explaining that the goal of this project was to send a positive message that Egyptian people of all sects love each other, and that Muslims are not terrorists but there are terrorists who enter their midst to send a bad image of Egyptians in general, and Muslims in particular.
Moreover, she explained that the main goal was to spread the spirit of happiness in the streets.
Concerning the reason why they chose Zamalek last year out of all areas in Cairo, El Serafy explained that they were aiming at showing Cairo streets in a beautiful picture and to convey a positive image of Egypt to foreigners, despite the sad events that the country witnessed in that period, so they chose Zamalek due to its European architectural style.
Moreover, El Serafy said that they were also afraid of people’s feedback, so they decided to be in an upscale neighbourhood, while choosing Dokki this year was to create variety and to reach more people from different places.
Mama Noel reappears on Cairo’s streets in 2018
She explained that she did not want people to get bored because of doing the same thing every year. However, she still wanted to spread happiness, so she decided to do something new this year explaining that this time, she would distribute chocolates to people while cycling in Dokki.
This was in collaboration with Pdal team, a cycling team that decided to have their last ride of 2017 with Mama Noel.
It is worth mentioning that Pdal team aims at disseminating the culture of cycling.
People’s feedback was positive
El Serafy said that while distributing the chocolates, they targeted reaching the largest amount of people from the working class this year and last.
She continued, saying that she distributed chocolates to workers in shops, children, passengers on public transport, and street vendors.
“We were surprised by their reactions and the social media feedback,” she added.
She explained that 99% of the social media comments on her photos while distributing the chocolates were positive, while only 1% were negative.
Furthermore, she explained that the 1% were opposing the idea due to religious reasons, but she said that she would reply to these comments by explaining that the Islamic religion urges its adherents to smile in the face of people and to exchange gifts with others to spread love.
“The photos gained 45,000 likes in two days and many people shared them,” El Serafy added.
El Serafy said that of the reactions that she cannot forget, were the reactions of workers at a shop when they received her chocolates, explaining that they told her that they thought they were in a dream as they could not believe this could happen in Egypt.
She added that she did not face any obstacles or problems in the street—such as harassment—while distributing the chocolates, as some people even considered the project a positive turn for the community.
Concerning social media feedback, she said that the most delightful comment was from one of her friends living outside of Egypt, who shared her photo and wrote, “the only joyful news from Egypt during that period, she made me feel proud that I am Egyptian,” then he said that he is sending a message to his friends from outside Egypt saying, “Merry Christmas from Egypt and its streets.”
Moreover, among the comments on Facebook, Rehab Abd Elkader commented on the photos saying, “I can see that Nayera is starting a page called happiness where she spread beautiful things all around,” while Ibby Elattar said, “omgggg! You are so inspiring, a message to everyone I swear if [yo]u really want to change the world! There you go[,] a perfect example, you are so beautiful.”
Mama Noel went to 57357 Hospital
After the positive feedback, local news website Masrawy made an initiative, in collaboration with the Robabkia photography page, and collected donations to buy presents for the children at 57357 Hospital and chose El Serafy to go with them and to dress as Mama Noel in order to make the children happy as they would see something different than the ordinary.
About the funding
Concerning funding, El Serafy explained that she and Saad always depend on self-funding as they distribute chocolates, which is not too costly, and that the idea is not in the price of presents but its value and impact in making people happy.
Furthermore, she added that when she went to 57357 Hospital, it was the first time to depend on donations that were collected by the news website.
Moreover, she assured that she does not mind volunteering with any NGO or anyone who wants to use her experience in cosplay in any project that will spread happiness and benefit society.
El Serafy is a feminist
El Serafy said that Saad and her chose to implement this idea and project, led by a woman, due to their belief in women’s right to express themselves in the way they prefer and that girls should face their communities.
El Serafy added that she believes that women should not be excluded from anything, explaining that she learned carpentry, plumbing, and broke into many other fields that the community limited to men only.
Furthermore, El Serafy said, “as long as I don’t harm anyone by what I am doing, it’s my right to do it.”
Moreover, El Serafy pointed out that the most common problem among women nowadays is that they are unaware about their rights, in addition to violence against them, child marriage, and female genital mutilation.
Meanwhile, she pointed out to family control over females’ lives, under false understandings of religion.
Concerning violence against women, El Serafy said that she acted in a play called “El Zinzana” (the prison), which discussed youth problems in general, and women’s specifically, especially violence against women.
Mama Noel’s inspirations in 2018
El Serafy said that she hopes to win first place in the upcoming full marathon and to participate in many projects that aim at spreading happiness between people.
Moreover, she added that she hopes to see Egypt witness a status of love and have better economic conditions.
“I hope to see everyone in Egyptian streets smiling,” El Serafy concluded.