So it is the most wonderful time of the year once again, but if you are in Tirana, Albania this year, you may be a bit unsure of what goes down in terms of festive frivolities over the next few weeks. As a predominantly secular country, religious festivals aren’t highest on the list of Albanian priorities but that doesn’t mean that they locals don’t know how to make the place feel festive. If you are in Albania this Christmas and New Year, this is what you can expect.
During the communist regime, religion was not allowed and as such, the Christian population (Orthodox and Catholic) of Albania was banned from celebrating. Instead, New Years Eve festivities stretched throughout the second half of December with all energy being focussed on the 31st and New Years Day. New Year’s Trees are popular, as is the practice of giving presents on NYE. Santa Claus has been replaced with Babagjyshi I Vitit te Ri (The Old Man of New Year) and families gather to eat, drink and be merry in honour of him and eachother, instead of Jesus.
If you are after nativity plays, cribs, and Christmas carols, then you might be hard pushed to find this in Albania.
There are however some that, now having the freedom to, like to celebrate Christmas in a Christian way. Christmas Day or “Krishlindjet” is a public holiday and Albanians will greet eachother saying “Gezuar Krishlindjet” on that day. There are however opportunities for those that want to worship around this time as midnight masses and Christmas services are becoming more common.
Many expats celebrate Christmas as well, with many not being active followers of religion but instead celebrating Christmas as a time to spend with family and friends, whilst eating as much food as humanly possible.
As you may have noticed, Tirana seems to get more Christmassy every year and 2018 is no exception. The main boulevards and streets are plastered in twinkly white Christmas lights and Skanderbeg Sq requires the wearing of sunglasses if you want to go and check out the lights there. A large tree stands in the middle of the square and ornate bows adorn the various government buildings in the vicinity. Shops and bars are beginning to put up their own decorations and Christmas trees, some of which even remain in place long after Christmas and New Year have passed!
Where to go?
Last weekend saw two large Christmas markets take place in Tirana, but if you missed them both then do not fear, Skanderbeg Square is hosting its own market that runs for the duration of the festive period. With artisan stalls, food, wine, beer, and fairground rides for all the family, it is the perfect place to go and get yourself in the mood.
What about New Years Eve?
So my last New Years in Tirana was a bit of a shock. I am used to NYE starting at around 5pm; fancy dress, pub crawls, glitter, and 12 hours of partying, but this is not the way things are done in Tirana. Most bars and restaurants remain closed during the first part of the evening- last year I gave up trying to find somewhere in Blloku that would feed me, or that was even open at 7 pm. Then as midnight strikes, the sky as far as the eye can see breaks out into incredible fireworks. I have never, ever, in my life seen so many fireworks in one place at the same time and it can be a little bit scary at times! Last time I ended up retreating behind my balcony window as the fact that every neighbour in a 10 apartment radius was firing colourful explosives off their balcony. This goes on for about an hour before Albanian’s take to the streets and bars to bring in the new year in style.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!