Halloween is not something that most Albanians know about. In fact, here in Shkoder they often confuse it with “Karnivale” (a foreign holiday that we do celebrate for reasons unknown to me). But Albanians love to party and any excuse to have a coffee with their friends is good enough for them. So this year I partnered with the other PCVs in my town, a local restaurant (run by an Albanian-American who has honestly become like a second father to me here) to bring Halloween to Shkoder.
My after school club “Change the World” came up with great ideas to decorate the restaurant weeks ahead of time, so it prepped people for the madness that was about to ensue.
Then a few days before October 31st, I took another group of students over to carve pumpkins and make Jack-o-lanterns. Interestingly, it’s so much harder than you’d think it would be to find pumpkins in Albania. Everyone tells me you can buy them from the vegetable sellers who live in the villages, but I have no idea where these magical people hid. I searched and searched and found 1 single butternut squash in Shkoder then gave up, went to the capital Tirana and bought a pumpkin for 3 times the price in the center of town. Small sacrifices.
So as I was buying the pumpkin the old lady looked at me and said “What are you going to make with this??” I tried to explain that it was going to be a decoration for Halloween but she didn’t understand. “But how are you going to cook it??” She kept insisting, so I shrugged my shoulders and said “I’m going to put it in the oven and bake it” and I walked away. Utterly confused. Later I found out that Albanians do use pumpkins, but it’s mostly in the villages and mostly the older generation. It’s seen as a “poor person’s” food and makes simple villager dishes, which explains why she was so baffled that a young girl in fake Ray Bans and a Northface was buying all her pumpkins.
Anyway, back to the story. So my kids are all decorating these pumpkins and having the time of their lives. Then the day of Halloween finally arrives and everyone goes all out. I had no idea what to expect since for most it was the first time they’ve ever dressed up or done traditional Halloween activities. Here, people “celebrate” by going to a club and drinking with their friends. Which actually sounds more “American” than the activity we did, come to think of it.
We were going for old-school Halloween experiences with bobbing for apples, a pumpkin carving contest, and a costume contest. And word spread like wildfire. By the end of the night we had more than 75 people in and out of the restaurant registering for the contest, getting their face painted, trick-or-treating, and sticking their faces in ice cold water to get an apple.
Even though this is my last Halloween in Shkoder as a PCV, I hope we’ve lain the groundwork well enough that people get excited again next year and keep this brand new tradition alive!
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”