Welcome to the second part of this short series of posts about Christmas customs in my native country (Malta) compared to my boyfriend’s country of origin (Sweden).
I’d like to thank all the people who commented and +1’d my previous post on Google+. Make sure you read it before jumping to today’s post.
Christmassy Fun for the Old and Young
The religious aspect of Christmas, although in an eternal battle against materialism and consumerism, is still of vital importance for the Maltese people. Thus, December is a very active month in the church with special functions held during the Advent.
Another side of this spirituality is demonstrated through the artistry and passion of the Nativity scene, as already mentioned in Part 1. Therefore, it is a common practice to visit or participate in a live reenactment of this holy scene, with the most popular held in the village of Ghajnsielem in Gozo. Another way to appreciate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is to attend crib exhibitions. Cribs are made in all shapes and sizes. In my childhood, I even remember seeing a crib carved out of a Maltese loaf of bread!
Valletta is one of the centres of activity during Christmas, together with other shopping hubs around the islands. While doing their shopping, people can enjoy scenes of carol-singing children, which is sometimes done for charity collections. Maltese carols are still popular among both young and old; the most famous one is called ‘Ninni la tibkix iżjed‘ (Sleep and cry no more).
Besides carols, there are orchestral concerts – in schools and theatres – as well as the ever-popular pantomimes. Pantos are designed on the British tradition: usually, a fairytale is taken and transformed into a hilarious and colourful show, full of puns and jabs at the local celebrity and political personalities. The character that stands out the most is always the Dame: a male actor dressed in extravagant female costumes and acting in an outrageous manner, making the audience instantly crack up at every line. I will always cherish the memory of the pantos organised by my middle school; it was the students’ only occasion to see the teachers acting and looking silly!
Of course, Christmas is the best season for children. Their studies are relaxed in December while they are taken around to attend concerts, pantomimes and parties before their school recess. Santa Claus is always present in such parties, providing entertainment and gifts. The best parties I have attended in my childhood were those organised at my father’s workplace. I always got awesome board games as gifts and Santa used to arrive on board of a helicopter!
Like I’ve already written in Part 1, the start of the Christmas season in Sweden is signalled by the lighting of the first candle on the adventsljusstake. The other candles are symbolically lighted every Sunday until Christmas, thus gradually increasing the anticipation for the festive day.
Another form of anticipation, especially among the kids, is ignited by the special calendar show on TV (Julkalendern). There are 24 episodes, 15 minutes in length, each aired every day: early in the morning before school and then repeated early in the evening. Every year, brand-new Christmas-themed episodes are broadcasted.
Outside the Swedish home, Christmas markets are a popular attraction, where people can find special seasonal food and handmade decorations. Naturally, you will also find carol singers, although mostly inside churches as it gets too cold outside.
One of the most important events, not only in the Christmas period but in Swedish culture in general, is the celebration of St. Lucia (Luciadagen – Lucy Day) on the 13th of December. It is the feast dedicated to the young Christian martyr Saint Lucy, whose name means ‘light’. So light is the main focus of this celebration for children.
A girl is chosen as Lucia through competitions on both local and national levels. She dons a white dress with a red sash around her waist and wears a wreath with candles on her head. She is accompanied by other girls bearing candles, dressed all in white and wearing candle-less wreaths, and by boys wearing coned hats and holding stars. They enter in the form of a train, headed by Lucia, and they give a singing show to their parents and the public. Matt has told me of his participation in such Lucia trains (luciatåg). Certainly a heart-warming symbolic celebration and an everlasting Swedish tradition.
Back inside the house, the Swedes love to bake some yummy goodies in preparation for Christmas, as the Maltese also do. However, you will know about all the seasonal food in the third and last part of the series, to be published close to Christmas Eve.