Albanian traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Albania?

A neighbor of Greece, it awaits many secrets, along with the rest of the countries of the Balkan Peninsula. Here, the customs and traditions of Albania.


Food in daily life

After half a century of Stalinist dictatorship, food culture is practically non-existent. For decades, there was little on the market beyond basic foodstuffs, and today, extreme poverty has left most Albanians with little more to eat than bread, rice, yogurt and beans.

To the extent that it has survived, Albanian cuisine is meat-oriented. Among Albanians living abroad it is easier to find traditional dishes, which are usually reserved for guests and for special occasions such as weddings.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Despite their poverty, Albanians are exceptionally generous and hospitable. A person invited to dinner will be given enough to ‘feed an army’, even though the host may go hungry the next day. It is not uncommon for an Albanian family to spend a month of their salary to feed a visitor.

Meals for guests or for ceremonial occasions such as weddings often include copious amounts of meat, washed down with Albanian raki, an alcoholic beverage.

In the old days, animals were slaughtered and roasted on a spit on religious festivals such as the Muslim celebration of Great Bayram and the Christian festivals of Saint Basil on January 1, Saint Athanasius on January 18, Saint George on April 23, and Saint George on April 6. May, San Miguel on September 29, San Nicolás on December 6 and Christmas on December 25. These customs have largely disappeared, although some regional dishes have survived.

Orthodox in southeastern Albania still eat qumështor, a custard dish made from flour, eggs, and milk, before the start of Lent. During the annual spring festival (“Dita e Verës”), celebrated in central Albania on March 14, women from Elbasan and the surrounding regions bake a sweet cake known as “ballakum Elbasani”.

Members of the Islamic Bektashi sect mark the end of the ten-day fasting period of matem with a special ashura (pudding) made from cracked wheat, sugar, dried fruit, crushed nuts, and cinnamon.

Lifestyle customs

The Albanians follow the customs called El Kanun, and these are sets of traditional and cultural practices that have their origin in the laws of the Illyrian tribe that have been passed down orally from one generation to another. The Kanun has four pillars that guide people in life, and they are Honor, Hospitality, Right Conduct and Family Loyalty.

In addition, El Kanun has a code of honor called Besa that requires any Albanian to have the ability to keep their promises and take care of their obligations in life, and it is the code of conduct that ensures that an agreement between two honorable members is seen as compliment.

The Kanun calls on people to care for and comfort those in need, regardless of their religious or racial affiliations, and this was the reason Albanians offered refuge to the Jewish people in the 1940s during the Holocaust.


The people of Albania have a large number of holidays that commemorate different notable events and individuals, and these holidays are spread throughout the entire year. On November 28 each year, Albanians in Southeastern Europe celebrate their flag and Independence Day in remembrance of the freedom they achieved in 1912 from the Ottoman Empire.

The event is usually marked with military parades in major cities. There is also Bajram which is a Muslim holiday observed as a day for forgiveness, peace and moral victory, unity and fellowship. The festival is characterized by the sacrifice of a sheep and the sharing of the meat with friends, family and the less fortunate in society.

The Bajram sighting date varies from year to year as it depends on the appearance of the crescent moon. Dita e Veres is another holiday observed in Albania, and it is a pagan festival held every March 14 to commemorate the end of the winter season, the rejuvenation of the spirit, and the rebirth of nature.

The main activity of the festival is the baking of sweets and the consumption of dishes including turkey legs, dried figs, boiled eggs, nuts and monkeys.

Religious beliefs

Albania is on the border, dividing three religions: Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy and Islam. According to the latest reliable statistics on religion (1942), among a population of 1,128,143 people, there were 779,417 (69%) Muslims, including Bektashi; 232,320 (21%) Orthodox; and 116,259 (10%) Catholics.

It can be estimated today that approximately 70 percent of Albanians in the republic are of Muslim origin, including Bektashi; about 20 percent, most in the south, are Orthodox; and about 10 percent, the majority in the north, are Catholic.

In 1967, all religious communities were dissolved when a communist government edict banned the public practice of religion. The law was not repealed until December 1990, during the collapse of the regime.

Despite the return of religious freedom, there seems to be more interest in the revival of Christianity and Islam among foreign missionaries and groups than among Albanians.

Albanians have never had a national religion with which to identify as a people. For the last century and a half, national (ethnic) identity has predominated over religious identity, and this is unlikely to change in the coming years in a small and struggling nation surrounded by hostile neighbors.

Organized religion continues to play a marginal role in public life. Religious fervor is extremely rare, and religious extremism is virtually unknown.


In the second half of the 19th century, the foundations for a national literature were laid with the rise of a nationalist movement fighting for Albania’s independence from a declining Ottoman Empire. The literature of this so-called Rilindja period of national awakening was characterized by romantic nationalism and provides a key to understanding the current Albanian mentality.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Catholic education centers created by the Franciscans and Jesuits in Shkodra under the auspices of the Austro-Hungarian Kultusprotektorat paved the way for the creation of an intellectual elite that produced the rudiments of a more sophisticated literature that was expressed mainly in poetry..

The culmination of Albanian literature before World War II appears in the works of the Franciscan priest Gjergj Fishta (1871-1940), once lauded as the national poet. From 1945 to 1990, for mainly political reasons, Fishta was excluded from the Albanian literary world and mention of his name was prohibited.

Virtually all pre-war Albanian literature was wiped out by the political revolution that took place during and after World War II. Most of the prewar writers and intellectuals who had not left the country in 1944 regretted their decision to stay.

The persecution of intellectuals and the break with virtually all cultural traditions created a literary and cultural vacuum that lasted until the 1960s and whose results can still be felt.

With Albania’s integration into the Soviet bloc during the 1950s, Soviet literary models were introduced and slavishly imitated. Writers were encouraged to focus their creative energies on specific themes, such as the partisan struggle of the “war of national liberation” and the construction of socialism.

Despite the limitations of socialist realism and the Stalinist dictatorship, Albanian literature made great progress in the 1970s and 1980s.

One of the best examples of creativity and originality in Albanian letters then and now is Ismail Kadare (born 1936), the only Albanian writer with a wide international reputation.

Kadare’s talents as a poet and as a writer of prose have lost none of their innovative force in the last three decades. His influence is still felt among the young post-communist writers of the 1990s, the first generation to be able to express themselves freely.

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