Thursday, March 14, 2013

Summer Day (Dite e Veres)

Last year's Summer Day was sunny in Tirana
Although the date is the 14th of March, today is Summer Day (Dite e Veres) here in Albania.  Ratified by the Albanian Parliament in 2004 as an official and national holiday, this day of pagan celebration symbolizes the rebirth of nature, the awakening from a long dark winter and a general rejuvenation of one's spirit.  Judging by today's wet and gray weather, you would never know that spring and yes, summer, are right around the corner. When I first learned about Summer Day during my pre-arrival in Albania language lessons, my teacher was insistent that the sun always shines on this day.  My wet slog to and from work, complete with rain boots and an umbrella today made me wonder about the logic of this assertion.  Summer Day celebrations usually bring unbearable crowds out onto the City's streets but in today's rain the roads were empty of all but a few speeding cars taking advantage of the rare lack of traffic.  Perhaps the sun will make an appearance later and the streets will once again be filled with revelers.  Given the forecast, this is unlikely, but given how quickly weather changes here, anything is possible.

I find the celebration of summer when we are three months away from the actual summer solstice--the official start of summer--- and still a week away from the vernal equinox a bit strange but the history behind this day runs deep in Albania.  The celebration of Summer Day dates back to ancient times in the City of Elbasan, which due in part to its location in the geographic center of the country, was considered the umbilical city for all of Albania. According to Albanian legend the Mountain Muse, who was the goddess of hunting, forests, and all things related to nature, would usher in summer by coming out of her temple on the 14th of March.  Today while Albanians flock to Elbasan to celebrate the day, others celebrate in the own cities and villages.  Families begin gathering the night before (in an effort to extend the celebration) to feast on traditional meals of turkey, roast meats, walnuts, and figs.  And of course there is plenty of raki to go around. Traditional cakes are served and visits to relatives' houses bring good luck and prosperity to the home's occupants.  It is said that a piece of sod brought home from a traditional early morning walk, complete with roots and grass, signifies the rebirth of nature and would bring about a prosperous growing season.  Pagan in roots or not, Summer Day is all about celebrating the impending warm weather.

So although today is dark and rainy, the first day of spring is still a week away, and summer feels even longer in coming, get out and celebrate Albania's Summer Day.  Dodge the raindrops and spend time with family and friends.  Eat, drink, and be merry since the long hot Albanian summer really is right around the corner. Or, do as I plan on doing; veres also translates into wine in Albanian, and celebrate the approaching end of the work week with a nice dinner and a quality glass of red wine.

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