Easter Celebrations in Malta

Malta is a predominantly Catholic country, this means that most Maltese follow and adhere to a yearly religious calendar which gives importance to a number of recurring feasts and traditions. Among these, Easter is one of the most prominent periods, since it not only has a specific religious meaning, symbolizing the rising of Christ, but also coincides with the beginning of Spring, which also serves to bring new life in nature, better weather, a flourishing of crops, and add energy and verve to the life of each individual in general.

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During this time, numerous processions, plays, marches and celebrations take place throughout the islands of Malta and Gozo, since here, Easter celebration can be said to be at a par with Christmas. As in most Mediterranean countries, Malta starts to officially celebrate the Easter period with Palm Sunday, which this year will be on Sunday 9th April. Many activities take place even before that, during Holy Week, which technically 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. This is a historic and traditional demonstration, where penitents who have made certain vows or asked for intercession from above, walk barefoot through the streets behind the procession, with chains and shackles tied to their feet as a symbol of their guilt and willingness to atone for their sins.

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Prior to Good Friday, many believers also celebrate Maundy Thursday or, as it is known in Maltese, ‘Ħamis ix-Xirka’, whereby most churches are decorated with flowers, models of the last supper, pennons and other specific decorations. During Maundy Thursday, it is traditional for the devout to perform ‘The Seven Visits’, or ‘Is-Sebgħa Visti’, which entails visiting and praying at seven different churches. Maundy Thursday is also referred to as Holy Thursday or the Mass of the Chrism, since on this day, the Archbishop of Malta blesses the Holy Oils during a ceremony at St. John’s Cathedral in Valletta.

Good Friday, which is a National Public Holiday in Malta, is considered to be a serious and solemn occasion. Churches are adorned with dark colors, and several processions occur throughout most towns and villages in Malta and Gozo, where priests or devout carry different statues symbolizing the Passion of Christ. Most villages also prepare short dramas or plays, enacted by devout dressed as characters from the Bible. Processions are almost always accompanied by marching bands, playing funeral marches or religious songs.

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The mood of the celebrations starts to change on Saturday evening. This is known as Holy Saturday and while starting in a somber manner, culminates with a celebration whereby all churches are illuminated with candles, lights, song and the tolling of the bells.

Easter Sunday, starts with a procession which commemorates the Risen Christ. The most famous of all such processions which take place around the island is surely the one which takes place in Valletta, and which is organised by the Confraternity of the Risen Christ, which traces its origins to the 17th century. The procession is a festive one, accompanied by beautiful traditional tunes and statues. Children also form an important part of the procession, carrying traditional foods and sweets, of which the most important is surely the ‘figolla’. This is a Maltese sugar and almond pastry which can only be found served in Maltese bakeries and confectioneries during the period of Easter, since it is synonymous with this feast.

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This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to view the complete article go here.

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The History of the Maltese Carnival

Carnival in Malta has a long history. The word itself originates from the Italian phrase ‘carne vale’, which means ‘meat is allowed’, since Carnival itself is usually celebrated before the start of Lent, during which meat consumption was not permitted by the Catholic church.photo-by-photocity-3-copy-1100x616

Although the origins of Carnival themselves have pagan roots, tracing back to the follies of the Roman Saturnalia and beyond, we first find actual traces of it in the Maltese islands as of the 1400s, as records were found at the general hospital which indicate that patients were given special meals for this festivity. Food and drink in fact are an important aspect of Carnival, as is the wearing of masks and costumes, signifying the suspension of the normal order of things where social class was all-defining. During Carnival, everyone could make merry. It was a time for jokes, laughter and pranks.

Carnival festivities increased during the time of the Order of Saint John, and the traditional ‘parata’, the sword-dance marking the victory of the Maltese and the Knights against the Turks during the siege of 1565, was introduced. The ‘kukkanja’ was also introduced at this time, this was a sort of game whereby all sorts of food and sweets were tied to a tree-trunk, and the general public was allowed to run and climb the trunk to pick items of food as presents.

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Carnival started to decline during the 19th century when the British governed the islands, as it was not part of British culture, however it still managed to survive. ‘Veljuni’ or masked balls were held in major theaters around Valletta, and even the British governor used to take part in the revelry. When Malta was granted the Constitution in 1921, Carnival evolved even further. Since 1926, outdoor Carnival festivities started being organised in Valletta by special committee. Carnival started to include a défilé of floats, carts and cabs featuring imaginary colorful figures, manned by young people in costume who would blow whistles, throw colored confetti, sound horns and jeer at the crowd while wearing beautifully crafted costumes. Shops or organisations sponsored these floats and they used the event also as an advertisement for their products. In fact, carnival boosts business since street hawkers, vendors and shopkeepers, not to mention bakers, start to plan for it well in advance.

Up to 1974, a part of Valletta’s main square was fenced to create an enclosure which offered space for dancing. Later, the enclosure was relocated to Freedom Square, however when this was closed for the building of Parliament, the enclosure was taken back to Saint George Square.

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Many people could be seen masquerading through the streets as of pre-war days. Some dressed up as ghosts, demons, clowns and fairies, while others simply wore masks. The Maltese Carnival always contained an element of political satire. Grotesquely costume masquers, not to mention floats or ‘karrijiet’ which derided and caricatured particular events and prominent figures, were and are plentiful during this time.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – a complete version of it can be found here.

Dear Maltese Local Councils, why are you so Ridiculous?

Yesterday, I wrote a post relating my participation to Medieval Mdina last weekend https://ddmoonsong.wordpress.com/2015/04/20/medieval-mdina-2015-fun-vs-stress-2/

What I did not mention, was that while in Mdina, the Medieval Festival was taking place, two other localities in Malta were ‘competing’ with the Mdina Local Council in attracting the crowd by offering two other ‘festivals’. Mgarr was celebrating ‘Festa Frawli‘, which basically promotes strawberries as a local produce. In a couple of weeks there will also be ‘Festa Mqaret‘ – mqaret are a kind of Maltese sweet fried biscuit.

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Also last weekend Hal Qormi were hosting ‘Festa Nutella‘, which, on the other hand, is most notably NOT a local produce, since in fact it is produced in Italy.

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I get it – every product imaginable is an excuse to invent some kind of ‘festival’ or ‘festa’ (in Maltese) to promote it and make money, but sometimes too much is TOO MUCH.

This morning I saw another local council, this time ‘Festa Bruschetta‘ was being promoted. Seriously? We all know and love the so-called ‘kisra hobz biz zejt‘ which is totally Maltese (this consists basically of freshly baked Maltese bread with tomato paste, olive oil, tomatoes, capers, pepper, salt, and spices to taste), however as such the ‘bruschetta’ can be found almost anywhere in Europe, so what is all the hype about?

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Throughout the year, I remember also the Festa tal-Qargha Hamra (Pumpkin Festival), Casal Fornaro (Bread Festival), and the chocolate festival (ok we definitely did not ‘invent’ chocolate… or did we?)

Seriously WE GET IT. MALTESE PEOPLE LIKE TO EAT!

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However while I am one of those persons who love to say that any excuse is good to party, I must also admit that at this point, local councils are just showing how desperate they are to make a little bit of extra money. What next? A Peanut butter revival? (Peanut butter is most definitely not a Maltese product, in fact most Maltese never even tasted it). A Treacle Pudding Feast? (this is a British dessert) A ‘Minestrone alla Genovese‘ Festa (this is obviously Italian, but then again, so is Nutella).

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Please dear Local Councils, why don’t you stick to original Maltese products and food instead of trying to make up new ways of lining your pockets? Ways which actually, don’t even make any sense! If the idea is to promote Malta, its traditional way of life and its traditions STICK TO MALTA! Don’t steal other countries’ products and try to pass them off as yours! So Nutella was ‘invented’ in Qormi? Sure it was! Pft!

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