Customs & Traditions
With its roots firmly in folklore and religion, the Maltese Islands celebrate a long history of dependence entwined with modernisation.
Over the past half century, this little Mediterranean island, freshly self-determining after a long history of colonisation and dependence, achieved a great deal in the way of modernisation. Much of the progress was achieved at break-neck speed, including an advanced infrastructure, well-developed industries like financial services, IT, and others. While much of this may come as a surprise to first time visitors, this transformation has not eliminated the core elements of Malta’s cultural identity – its customs and traditions.
Largely rooted in rural folklore and religion, Maltese customs are still clearly visible in everyday life, most notably, the village festa. This celebration of the local village’s patron saint started over five centuries ago, during the reign of the Knights of St. John, and till today, brings with it a colourful cacophony of Mediterranean boisterousness. Possibly the most well known is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, or Mnarja. This highlight of the cultural calendar is celebrated in the wooded area of Buskett, and features animal and agricultural displays, traditionally cooked rabbit, and għana – a traditional type of Maltese music.
Traditional life starts early on in Malta. The vast majority of babies are still baptised into the Roman Catholic faith, and this celebration usually involves a not so intimate gathering with family, friends, and of course, food. Shortly after, usually on a child’s first birthday, the Maltese practise a little-known tradition called the il-quċċija, which involves the child crawling towards a collection of objects while family and friends encourage the child to pick something. The tradition dictates that the selected object is representative of the child’s future career. Objects typically include rosary beads, indicating an ecclesiastical calling, a hardboiled egg, symbolising prosperity, as well as more modern inclusions such as a calculator symbolising a career in finance.
Other religious sacraments are celebrated with the same gusto, including the First Holy Communion, which sees the child dressed in flamboyant, angel-like attire and is always followed by a party in the child’s honour. This celebration is closely followed the sacrament of Confirmation, which has a similar celebratory style.
Weddings are a big affair in Malta. In fact, the Island has recently started including wedding tourism as part of its offering to visitors. However, the traditional Maltese wedding is still alive and kicking. Although there have been some modifications throughout the years, the core concepts are still practised: ceremonies are almost always held in a church while celebrations are held afterwards, usually in wedding halls or one of the Islands’ many gardens. The bride and groom distribute small trinkets or presents as a sign of thanks and as a small memento for their guests. Food is a major part of the celebrations, and in particular, sweets. Maltese weddings almost always feature perlini – a candy coated almond sweet of Sicilian origin.