Category Archives: Holidays in Malta

Christmas Traditions around the World

xmas treeChristmas, the season of joy and forgiveness, involves several traditions. In this article, we examine the origins of some of the most popular festive customs.

Christmas Trees
Few of us could really imagine Christmas without having a beautifully decorated tree. So when did this tradition start? It has been suggested that the origin of decorating pine or fir trees with apples, roses, candies and colored papers commenced some time during the Renaissance and in early modern Germany. Its 16th century origins are linked to the period of Martin Luther, but its widespread popularity was due to its introduction by various members of the nobility. In fact, the Christmas tree decorating tradition became much more popular and widely accepted in the United Kingdom after Queen Victoria’s marriage to the German Prince Albert.

mistletoeMistletoe
It was commonly believed that mistletoe should not touch the ground between being cut and its removal after Candlemas, which commemorates the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem. People would traditionally hang mistletoe in their houses to protect against fire. Moreover, any man and woman who met underneath it were bound to kiss each other. Each time a couple would kiss underneath the mistletoe, one berry would be removed. Once all berries
were removed, the privilege ceased.

Xmas CribNativity Crib – a Maltese tradition
In Malta, just like in any other country where Christmas is celebrated, the Crib is a part of the Festive season and tradition. It is believed that the very first Crib to be built in Malta dates back to 1617 and although there is no official document which can confirm it, the crib has been built every Christmas since then. The design of the Cribs was influenced mainly by the Neapolitan style. In fact, although this style was popular in Europe until the end of the last century, many Maltese disagreed with it, claiming, that such style did not represent the Holy Night and burnt them as firewood, during times of poverty.

The more acceptable style hailed from Sicily, and was introduced to the Maltese by a Franciscan friar, during the second half of the 19th century. The popularity of building cribs bloomed during the 19th and early 20th century. The most common materials were rustic stone, coal residue, and eventually, papier mache.

xmas  stockingChristmas Stocking
There is a lot of debate surrounding where the tradition of Christmas stockings originated from. A popular story revolves around the tale of an old man and his three daughters. Due to his financial situation, he feared that his daughters would be unable to marry, as he could not afford their dowries. St Nicholas was riding through the village and heard of this issue. He was also aware of the fact that the old man would not accept a donation from him. Therefore, he decided to enter the man’s house through his chimney. He found three stockings drying by the fireplace and he filled them with a bag of gold each. The following morning, the family found the gold and the daughters were soon married. Nowadays, inspired by this legend, adults and children hang their stockings by the fireplace hoping to find their stockings filled with gifts and treats the next morning.

xmas candyCandy Cane
The history of the Candy Cane dates back to 1670, when a German choirmaster wanted something to keep children occupied during the lengthy Christmas Eve ceremonies. He approached a local sweet maker who created a red and white stick with a crook at the tip of it. The shape of the sweet is said to allude to the shepherds who visited the child Jesus, whilst the colours symbolise Christian beliefs in the sinless life of Jesus. The religious connotations justified the distribution and consumption of sweets during worship. Eventually, this candy gained popularity across Europe and the sweet is now available in several flavours.

ponsiettaPoinsettia
A popular story states that a young girl in Mexico was too poor to buy presents to celebrate Christmas. The angels inspired her to pick some weeds growing on the side of the road and put them in front of the church alter. When these weeds blossomed, beautiful crimson blossoms sprouted from them, and they became poinsettias. Following this, it became a tradition in Mexico to include these bright flowers into Christmas celebrations. Locals believe that these plants have a special symbolism – the shape of the flowers symbolises the Star of Bethlehem, while the red colour represents the blood spilt during crucifixion of Jesus. Poinsettias are now a popular Christmas decoration worldwide.

Many of today’s traditions are deep rooted in history. The listed traditions remain very popular, and many are a signature feature in many households during the Festive Season.

Maltese love to celebrate Christmas. In fact some of the Maltese Christmas traditions include the nativity crib (also known as ‘il-presepju’), the Sermon of the Child (also known as ‘il-Priedka tat-tifel’) and the traditional Maltese Christmas Lunch. So if you will be visiting Malta during your Christmas holidays feel free to check out our list of events taking place in and around Malta.

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Diving into the Blue Sea…

Malta’s clear Mediterranean sea is ideal for scuba diving. In fact the Maltese islands are blessed with a variety of reefs, caves and wrecks; the ideal habitat for fish and also a pleasant spot for some great diving in the Mediterranean.

A great advantage of the Maltese waters is the calmness and clarity of the surrounding sea which offer optimal visibility. Besides the risk of encountering dangerous fish is extremely low around Malta; thus creating the best conditions for first time divers.

Malta Diving

For the experienced divers there are plenty of challenging dives to choose from. The depths of the dives vary, from the very shallow 12-metre Ghar Lapsi dive to Lantern Point, which has an underwater tunnel leading down to a well over 50 metres.

If you’d love to experience this underwater adventure there are several types of diving courses and activities offered by locally licensed diving schools. Before plunging in the waters divers need to complete a medical statement form indicating they are fit to dive. All diving schools in Malta provide the service of a doctor who provides certification at a small fee. Medicals from other countries are acceptable, provided that the diving centre is presented with a copy.

Divers who wish to dive unaccompanied are required to have a buddy as well as to present a PADI Advanced Open Water or equivalent certification by other agencies (e.g. CMAS Two Star Diver, BSAC Sport Diver, SSI Advanced Open Water, etc).
Prior to deciding on a diving spot it is recommended that you check with the diving centre. They can give you a knowledgeable opinion of suitable diving spots depending on weather conditions and your level of expertise.

If you would like some information about diving in Malta kindly contact our Concierge Desk on concierge@excelsior.com.mt or on 00356 23192205.

Photo courtesy of ViewingMalta.

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The Festa Band in the Maltese Culture…

 Feasts in Malta

Summer is in full swing and so are the village feasts that are celebrated around the Maltese islands. During the year, especially during the summer months, towns and villages around Malta celebrate their locality’s feast in honour of their patron saint.

Lija Feast - Clive VellaBut there’s no feast without celebration and music. Band clubs in Malta are part of the social and cultural history of the Maltese islands. In fact most of the towns and villages in Malta have their own band club. Its aim is to spread Maltese culture and to teach music to the local community. Many musicians who have gone on to make a name for themselves, locally or abroad, owe their success, in part, to the encouragement and teaching of the local band club.

These philharmonic societies or band clubs, originated way back in the second part of the 19th century. With the financial support of local businessmen, individuals who possessed the talent to learn how to play an instrument bought a musical instrument and started learning, with the primary aim of performing in the village feast.

By time, the number of band clubs flourished and a Band Clubs Association was formed. This year the Association is celebrating its 60th anniversary, endorsing a membership of 84 band clubs across the island. According to the latest survey by the local National Statistics Office, the total number of bandsmen/women (bandisti) amount to over 4,000.

Every town and village in Malta and Gozo has its own band club, some even have two, as there are certain villages which celebrate two feasts – one dedicated to the patron saint and the other celebrating the so called ‘secondary’ feast of another saint. During feast time competition is at its max, where each band club strives to be the best, decorating the façade of the club’s premises in the most colourful and vivid way, launching new musical numbers, and creating the most merrymaking atmosphere possible. Marching in rows of six, wearing uniforms and proudly showing off the badge of their club, a band is normally composed of between 60 and 70 bands-men/women playing a variety of instruments.

During your summer holidays in Malta enjoy a typical Maltese feast and be part of the local festivities. And whilst staying at this superior 5 star hotel in Malta be sure to ask Our Concierge for assistance in planning your excursions and for recommendations on places to visit.

Information obtained from www.guidetomalta.net

Photos courtesy of www.viewingmalta.com, Mario Galea and Clive Vella.

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