Holy Week and Easter in Malta
Maltese traditions that take place during the Easter time are very interesting to watch for any tourist who may be visiting Malta during that time.
Malta is a catholic nation and therefore it should not be a surprise that Easter in Malta is a very big event.
However, even if you’re not the religious type or are a non-believer, most of the Maltese traditions that take place during the Easter period are generally interesting to watch or participate in for any visitor who may happen to be holidaying in Malta during that time.
Holy Week commences on the Friday preceding Good Friday, when the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried in a procession through the streets of Valletta and many other towns and villages. During this time, the Maltese flock to the churches in great numbers. On Maundy Thursday, the ‘seven visits’ take place, which are the visits to seven different churches, to pay homage to the Altars of Repose.
On Good Friday, a lot of Maltese towns and villages are staging biblical re-enactments. These processions feature life size statues and biblical characters. The statues portray various scenes from the passion and death of Jesus Christ and each statue is carried by approximately 6 to 8 men on their shoulders. Roman soldiers feature heavily in these processions. Most processions also have participants dressed in white robes and hoods, walking the parade with lots of metal chains tied at their ankles and dragging them the whole way or carrying wooden crosses in penitence.
On Easter Sunday, the atmosphere is completely different all across the island, since it is a day of joy and celebrations. Towns and villages celebrate the resurrection of Christ with lively band marching and a short procession with the statue of the Risen Christ.
Easter day is traditionally celebrated with a family lunch and is a time to visit relatives and friends, exchanging gifts. It’s also tradition to give children Easter eggs and a ‘figolla’, (almond-filled pastry, covered in icing).
Since early December, when everyone starts thinking about Christmas, Malta is getting ready to celebrate these dates on every corner, with Gozo and Valletta as the main centers where the greatest number of Christmas events occur. While it is true, the main events of Christmas in Malta focus on 22 December to 9 January.
Malta Nativity Cribs
One of the most distinctive traditions of these dates are the cribs (known in Malta as "Il presepju"). During Christmas time in Malta, cribs are built almost everywhere and by everyone. The tradition of displaying cribs first began in 1617, when the first true Maltese crib is believed to have been made and displayed in the Domenican Friars Church in Rabat.This tradition has become a popular activity which involves a large number of people. The crib is exposed both in public and private places and during these days are open to the public. This is what is known as the "route of the cribs' of Malta”.
Maltese Christmas Food
The traditional Christmas meal includes turkey and pudding, which was started by British soldiers, who were stationed in Malta during the first and second wars. They also make a dish called timpana that is baked macaroni covered with crusty pastry.
Procession of the Baby Jesus
On Christmas Eve a tradition hugely popular is the Procession of the baby Jesus where a life size figure of baby Jesus is carried at the front and Christmas carols are sang by the followers. This is then followed by the Midnight Mass.
The Preaching of the Child
Church functions reach their climax with the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass which includes ‘Il-Priedka tat-tifel’ ('the preaching of the child'). A boy or a girl, normally aged 7 to 10 years old, does the preaching of the sermon at the midnight mass instead of the priest!.The boy or girl tells the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and is encouraged to give their sermon a personal delivery which will touch the hearts of the church-goers. It has also become common in most churches to organize a mini-pageant with children dressed as shepherds, Joseph and Mary carrying a baby doll (representing Jesus) acting out the story of the Nativity. This is done before the Midnight Mass.
On Christmas Day all extended members of a family assemble in one house for lunch and stay there till the evening.
Sow wheat, grain and canary seed
An old tradition that survived up to this day is the sowing of wheat, grain and canary seed (gulbiena) on clots of cotton in flat pans four weeks before Christmas and nurtured in the darkness of cupboards in the kitchen. These seeds shoot up and remain as white as Santa’s beard. They are then placed next to the infant Jesus and around the crib.