Monday, 18 December 2017

Christmas in Malta - part 2

The Joy Gospel Singers presenting a Christmas Concert
Christmas offers a splendid occasion for family gatherings. In most houses an attractively decorated Christmas tree is put up beneath which are placed the various presents wrapped in colorful paper. Christmas pudding (il-pudina tal-Milied) and turkey dinner (id-dundjan) became popular during the first and second world wars when thousands of sailors and soldiers from the British Empire were stationed in Malta. The Island was a military and naval base for the allies. Prior to these wars a rooster (serduq), rather than turkey, was the bird to be served at Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas banquet normally includes the delicious Maltese dish called timpana, backed macaroni covered with crusty pastry. A special kind of honey-and treacle rings (qaghaq tal-ghasel) are eaten during the Christmas festivities.
An old tradition that survived up to this day is the sowing of wheat, grain, canary seed and vetch (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. They need little water, and they remain very white if kept in darkness. Exposed to the light, they start turning a little green, but they still add a decorative effect.
A custom which unfortunately vanished many years ago was the playing of bagpipes (iz-zaqq). They characterized the music of the shepherds who tended their flock on Christmas night. The midnight Mass is very popular among the Maltese, and choirs rehearse constantly for their participation. Pageants and plays about the nativity are also quite popular. Many concerts and recitals are held in churches and other public places. The Christmas season ends around January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany, and that’s when all the decorations are finally taken down. A huge fund-raising event is held nationwide on December 26th, raising funds for needy cases, an event shown live on all TV Stations.
I can tell you that after being away for 35 years, the decorations in streets and squares have increased immensely, while the number of cribs or presepios have multiplied to no end. There are so many crafty enthusiasts who create beautiful scenes out of every imaginable material. Usually everything is destroyed after Christmas and another display is created next year, with even more imaginative ideas.

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