Albania’s relationship to Christmas is not as strong as may other countries in Eastern Europe, and history and culture are both responsible for this phenomenon. Of course, awareness about and interest in Christmas is growing, given Christmas’s global scope. But Albanians abroad may have a difficult time getting used to celebrating Christmas the way people in the West are used to celebrating it.
New Year’s Was Christmas
The fact is that the New Year’s holidays stood in for Christmas in Albania for many years.
Communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe eliminated the celebration of Christmas and focused everyone’s “Christmas” energy on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. For example, Christmas in countries such as Ukraine and Russia may continue to be less important to some families than New Year’s Eve—however, these countries do have holiday customs that have been and continue to be revived.
A New Year’s tree is typical for Albania, as is the giving of gifts on New Year’s Eve. Santa Claus in Albania is Babagjyshi i Vitit te Ri, the Old Man of New Year. Families gather on this day and eat a large meal together with plenty of traditional foods. They may also sit down to watch traditional television programs. The week prior to New Year’s, families clean their homes in preparation for this holiday.
History and Culture
Albania has the unique distinction of having banned religion. In other countries, religious practices were discouraged, but in Albania, it was criminalized to the extent that leaders of the church were severely punished.
Christmas was another casualty of this policy, and as a result, the commercialism of Christmas has also not taken over in the weeks prior to the holiday.
With Albania having a large Muslim population, Christmas was not widely celebrated even before religion was outlawed. While both Catholic and Orthodox populations celebrated Christmas according to their own customs, Christmas is not a universally observed holiday in Albania.
However, December 25 - called Krishtlindjet - is a public holiday.
Albanians say “Gëzuar Krishtlindjet!” to greet one another on Christmas. Believers and others who want to celebrate Christmas may attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve feast is typically one without meat, consisting of fish, vegetable, and bean dishes. Baklava is also served. Some families may also give gifts on this day.
Expats in Albania enjoy their own Christmas traditions. Foreigners living in Albania may put up a tree for Christmas, have others over to their homes for the day, and bake sweets they are used to having for the holidays. Even though Christmas is a quieter time of year in Albania than in the West, those who crave the lights and festive mood that Christmas usually elicits can get their fill on New Year’s Eve. The Christmas tree on Tirana’s main square and the fireworks display at night help to mark the day.