2014 has arrived. Just 5 more months and my PCV service will be done. But I can’t even begin to think about that right now, so I’m just going to focus on life in Albania one more time.
The holiday season in Albania is a tough time for an American who is used to blasting Christmas carols, putting up gaudy light shows, and drinking eggnog until my heart’s content. Those things just aren’t easy to do in Albania. Granted, in the 2 short years I’ve been here there have been some immense changes happening around me. Awesome lights go up in December and the streets of Shkoder are filled with wreathes and pine trees.
At first I was so excited to see all these displays and all my students in Santa hats as Christmas was approaching. How incredibly strange for predominantly Muslim country to have such bursting Christmas spirit? I ignorantly thought to myself. But then I took a close look and actually read the captions on the tv and the words printing on the Santa hats. Gezuar Vitin i Ri! That translates to Happy New Year.
That’s right, in Albania pine trees are put up and decorated in every house as a symbol of the new year and Santa hats are worn on the 31st, not the 25th. They completely absorbed another holiday and made it their own in order to fit in with the rest of the world while maintaining their own Muslim identity. After all, I don’t think Santa Claus delivered presents in the Bible and I’m pretty sure there is no mention of a pine tree filled with lights there either. No harm no foul in my opinion.
I’m sure all my Fox News lovers will have a different opinion. But for me, it’s just one more reason why I love living in Albania. After 50 years of religious suppression during the communist dictatorship, people here are pretty open and welcoming of every faith. They don’t question or pester or get all defensive about saying “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas.” In fact, every single person wished me a “Merry Christmas”- Orthodox, Muslim, and Catholic alike.
Albania is such a cool place because in the same town, on the same street you can find a communist building, a mosque, a Christmas tree, and an Orthodox church. Despite the homogeneity, it’s quick a beautiful mixture of religions and people that coexist in peace. A lesson to be learned by everyone.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”