Albania – The Land of Eagles or as we Albanians are called, Shqiptar’s, which means, “EAGLE”. My sisters and I crack up because we say, “Can you speak Shqip?” Basically, can you speak eagle, but really can you speak Albanian. Actually, I know the language pretty well since I am a second generation child born to first generation parents on both paternal and maternal sides and shared a home with my grandmother, Victoria, yes, my namesake, who couldn’t speak a word of English. Full blooded Shqiptar!
Growing up in an ethnic culture brought about many traditions. We grew up in the Eastern Orthodox faith and yes, just like the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, I got married at my Albanian church, we spit over our kids’ heads three times to ward off the evil spirits, we are loud and proud, we eat lamb, drink Raki, but most of all, we have a passion for life.
The traditions have been passed down and have stayed with our family. One of the best traditions I fondly remember is the Lucky Quarter! New Years for me growing up was a hectic time because my father celebrated his Name Day, St Vasil or St. Basil on New Year’s Day. In our religious tradition, this was an open house for all our relatives and Albanian friends from church. It was crazy! My grandmothers and mom would be slaves to the kitchen cooking throughout the holidays all the wonderful Albanian fair – Lakor, Byrek, Brushtull, Baklava, feta cheese and black olives galore and whiskey shots for the old men with their cigars. My sisters and I would bring the jelly dish around with glasses of water and the guests would say some congratulatory saying in Albanian with “Gezuar” at the end. (Good Luck, God Speed, etc.!)
The best tradition, I think, that we celebrated was to have our New Year’s family meal with a nice hot bryrek pie (spinach or leek pie in a filo dough) with a wrapped quarter in it. My grandmother would hide the quarter in the pie, and the lucky person who got the quarter had the best of luck for the year. After my father passed away, we continued to carry on this tradition and we would swap, my sisters and my mom, putting the quarter in the pie so we could have a go at getting the lucky quarter for the year.
To this day, we continue to have our New Year’s Day Byrek with the lucky quarter. We have passed the tradition along to our nephews. They look forward to it every year and we wonder, who is going to get that lucky year? I feel that I was a lucky kid to have these unique family traditions. I wonder if some of my students have something unique to share? I am sure they do. But I also wonder if there are some who do not have that special tradition. Those are the students I always worry about during these months and school may be their only salvation. I wonder….. can we make it better for our kids? I am sure we can!
Byrek Hot Out of the Oven!