The 14 March, the Summer Day (Dita and Verës) is a pagan festival that symbolizes regeneration, the awakening of nature and the continuity of life. Its origins are lost in antiquity.According to some sources, the Summer Day derives from the arbëresh, the Italian-Albanian communities settled in Italy in the fifteenth century. The 14 March, the arbëreshs of the Italian coasts, gathered a tuft of grass together with the roots and the earth, bringing it home in memory of the anniversary of their emigration from Albania.
In fact, other sources trace the festival back to Illyrian antiquity. At that time, the feast occurred the first of March which according to the Julian calendar also corresponded to the first day of the year.
Pilgrimages were made in the highest peaks of the Albanian mountains to be as close as possible to the Sun God and pray for the prosperity and well-being of the new year.
The great bonfires crossed by men and the young symbolized the end of winter. Instead the crowns and garlands on the doors of the houses wished good luck. The candor of the festival has faded over the centuries, but has come down to our days thanks to the tradition preserved in the city of Elbasan.
The ritual of the Summer Day begins the day before with the preparation of its typical sweets: the revani and the ballakume, of the amalgami of butter, sugar, corn flour and egg yolks cooked in a wood oven. In the evening ballakume, dried figs, walnuts, turkey legs, boiled eggs, simite (a typical sandwich in the city) are distributed to members of the family.
The oldest woman in the house stays awake at night and goes from one room to another to lay blades of grass on the cushions of couples, young people and children, a ritual that symbolizes regeneration and vivification. On the morning of 14 March, the older ones leave the front door open as a sign of generosity, fill a jug with fresh water and bring home a tuft of green grass.
The younger ones fertilize the orange and olive trees; instead the little ones are the first to make "lucky" visits to neighbors and relatives who give them turkey legs, dried figs and walnuts. Finally, the 14 March lunch must be eaten strictly outdoors in the company of friends and relatives.
For some years, the Summer Day has been celebrated throughout the country and has become part of the official holidays of Albania.
This article was first published on ALBANIA NEWS the 14 March 2011.
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