Here is the third and final part of my Christmas series of posts. Of course, the focus now is on the last and most important days of the period: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Make sure that you have read the previous two parts. Hope you’ve enjoyed the series!
Food, Family & Love on Christmas
Christmas family celebrations in Malta are usually done right on Christmas Day and not on the Eve. However, to be exact, the activities do start a little before the 25th of December. That is, for whoever attends the religious street processions followed by the midnight mass in the church.
The midnight mass is still very popular among families, being the most significant tradition of the Maltese Christmas. Just before the High Mass from the parish priest, there is a sermon by a young boy or girl, called il-Priedka tat-Tifel (the child’s preaching). The child goes up in the church’s gallery or stands at the pulpit and recites – by heart, it’s good to point that out – the story of the birth of Jesus. The sermon is delivered in such a passion that only children are capable of and it culminates in the end with the child shouting “Viva Ġesù Bambin!” (Hooray for Baby Jesus), to the warm applause from the audience. Thus, the child is consecrated as the star of the village or town, to the joy and pride of his family.
It is now becoming more and more common for families to have an early Christmas breakfast right after the midnight mass. People can either have such breakfast back at home, by enjoying a treacle ring (qagħqa tal-għasel) and a hot drink of chestnuts and cocoa called imbuljuta tal-qastan, or else they can opt for a more lavish meal at a restaurant.
Keeping to the theme of food, we come to the Christmas Lunch. Again, families nowadays can either choose to organise the lunch at home and invite relatives over or, as it is becoming more common, they can book a table at a restaurant or a hotel. As a kid, I remember spending a couple of Christmases with my relatives from mum’s side at a buffet in a particular hotel in the North of Malta. I used to look forward to the long car ride and to spending time with all my young cousins.
These days we are on par with most other countries and serve turkey for the lunch. It’s in the dessert section that there is more variety, as we have borrowed some specialities from other countries. These are namely the pudina tal-Milied (Christmas pudding), the Yule log and the Christmas fruitcake from Britain as well as the pandoro and panettone from Italy.
Before or during the lunch, some families also love to gather in front of the tv to hear the Pope pronouncing his blessings in Maltese during the Urbi et Orbi address from the Vatican.
Celebrations for some people in Sweden start on the 23rd, on the day called “Little Christmas”. Young couples, friends and relatives may choose to spend this day together, eating and exchanging small gifts, since they might be busy somewhere else (with their parents, for example) on the Eve.
The main activities take place on the 24th, Christmas Eve (“Julafton”). The Swedish lunch on this day is called julbord, a buffet-style meal. The star of the table is the julskinka – the Christmas ham – together with turkey, köttbullar (meatballs), prinskorv (sausage), liver pâté, vörtbröd (rye bread) and Janssons frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation, which I have tasted when I was in Sweden). All of this is washed down by julmust, a soft drink that is only available in this season.
Christmas snacks that are commonly eaten during December are lussekatter (cat-shaped saffron and raisin buns typical of St. Lucia’s Day), pepparkakor (gingerbread biscuits) and other homemade pastries, together with nuts, figs and dates. Another typical drink is glögg, a type of sugared red wine with raisins and almonds.
After lunch, the family sits in front of the tv, waiting for the annual 3 p.m. show called Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul. Known as “Kalles” in short, it’s an old Donald Duck cartoon and it remains unchanged from year to year, however, some nostalgics such as my boyfriend often get a shock when they see that certain scenes have been cut out to maintain a certain political correctness.
Later in the evening, the gifts are gathered from under the tree and exchanged, sometimes in the presence of a relative or friend dressed up as Santa (Jultomten). At this time, the family typically enjoys ris a la malta, a rice porridge mixed with cream and strawberry jelly.
Christmas Day is reserved for those people who like to attend mass in the church, and the rest of the day is spent quietly at home with the family.
I have always spent my past Christmases in an unremarkable fashion (save for a couple of buffets with relatives), lunching at home with my parents. Although our home has always been heavily decorated, we never developed a tradition of exchanging gifts or celebrating in any special way.
Now that I am living with Matt, who has always had traditional Christmas celebrations in the family back in Sweden, I am discovering how enjoyable these days can be. This is happening because we are taking bits of traditions from both Maltese and Swedish cultures. Even my parents are now more involved!
We plan on spending tomorrow (Christmas Eve) like the Swedes do, minus the big lunch. As soon as we wake up, we’re going to exchange gifts and hopefully, at 3 p.m., we will watch “Kalle Anka” on streaming. On the day after, we’ll go to my parents’ house for lunch and there exchange gifts with them.
My dream now is to have the occasion to spend at least one Christmas in Sweden, with Matt’s family. If that happens, I hope that it would be a white Christmas!
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed all the three posts. What else is there to say? I wish you happy and peaceful holidays with your loved ones!
The Twelve Days of Christmas – Malta Style (My Destination Malta)
Christmas in Malta (WhyChristmas.com)
Swedish Christmas (Sweden.se)
Christmas in Sweden (WhyChristmas.com)
About Sweden: Modern Christmas (Graphic Garden)
A big thank you goes to Matt for checking and adding to the info about Sweden.