Annually, Elbasan (along with other cities throughout Albania and the Balkans) celebrate the departure of Winter on March 14 with Summer Day.  It seems a bit like putting the horse before the cart, since we still have to endure frosty temperatures and rain for a few more months.

I found this explanation about the origin of Summer Day:

“The origin of the Shkumbin Summer Day has been tracked to the temple of the Mountain Muse (Zana Malit, Zana e Çermenikës) which was built in the periphery of the city of Shkumbin. According to the legend the Muse was the goddess of hunting, forests and all nature. She would come out of her temple on March 14th, thus marking the coming of summer. Passed on from generation to generation the national festival has become a day by which the city of Shkumbin (Elbasan) itself has come to be identified with, and renowned for the unique cultural heritage it holds.

But the Summer Festival celebrated in the otherwise known as the umbilical city of the nation, is not a local event at all. Many guests pour in from all parts of the country to attend the arrival of summer, and naturally to taste the characteristic food of the region like the ballakums and the traditional cake that on this day are prepared somewhat “differently”.” Turkeys, walnuts, loads of dry figs are traditionally given to little children, who on their turn are the first to make the visits of good luck and prosperity in the houses of kin and family.

Our ancestors tell that the night before Summer Day, people would gather early on in their houses to celebrate with kin and family the prologue of the festival. The waking was then done early in the morning. The elders would be the first to open the doors of the house for bounty and the ones to pick up the pitcher and go out and fill it with fresh water. On return they would bring home a slab of soil, new roots and grass as nature was reborn.”

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Just a few quick notes:
Ballakume are these massive cookies and I ate all the ones given to me so here’s a picture from the internet.  This is special to Elbasan and everybody has their own basic recipe, but I think general consensus is you mix it by hand, it takes all day, and if you can get the baker down the street to bake them for you, go the night before Summer Day eve.  I think they are made with sugar, butter, eggs, and cornflour.  Also there is some difference in spelling, but I’m going with what I saw.  Ballokume? That’s just wrong.

Honestly it’s a lovely little event, and it’s what we have.  Summer Day Eve, i.e. March 13 had concerts galore and despite the rain, the true, honest, Albanians were circle dancing (as you do).  It was impressive to see the crowd in the central boulevard and many of the craftier more flexible audience climbed up the castle walls or sat on the shoulders of Aqif Pasha (the statue and the legend).DSC_0046 DSC_0070 DSC_0060 DSC_0050

The one problem with the festival is that the actual day of Summer Day starts SO early, and the evening before goes SO late, that unless you’re prepared for it – something has got to give.  So I missed most of the morning activities which included a parade, the brass band, some folk dancing, and heaven knows what else, but it was a fair trade.  I got sleep…

…and cinnamon rolls. (thanks Melia!!)

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A little group of volunteers groups 14 and 15 gathered at the ONE café in all of Elbasan that was not serving coffee.  As I noted to friends there – in America, someone would probably fly off the handle, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NO COFFEE?” and then break down, cry and maybe melt in a puddle depending on how much they drank the night before, but I think Albanians, for whatever reason, have learned to take such set-backs in stride.

Albanian patron, “I want a coffee.”
Albanian waiter, “We don’t have coffee.”
AP, “tea then.”
AW, “no tea.”
AP, “…”
AW, “….”
AP, “I’ll have a beer.”

(That’s not exactly how it went down, but you get the idea)

Anyway after missing all the activities, there was only one thing left – the kiosks!

It was crowded, and the flow wasn’t helped by the mayor and his entourage. I love the mayor of Elbasan, but I was there for the vendors, in particular to see one of my students from the Youth Council, whose father owns a honey business.  She was sweet enough to gift Melia and I both a jar of honey.  I’ve only had a sweet taste, but the color is this rich earthy brown.  It is like the stout of honey – compared to the lager-esque crap I’ve been using.

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And yeah that was pretty much the day.  Things died down and the rain picked up, but we managed to restaurant hop and celebrate with some local friends.  After a few beers and raki, some in our group were really jonesing to circle dance and invited their way into some circle dancing.  Albanians are nothing if not hospitable and quickly welcomed the foreigners who could hop and skip with the best of them.

That’s what I got.

On a MIKA kick.