Category Archives: Maltese Traditions

Malta: the Land of Honey

Malta is well renowned for its pure honey. In fact beekeeping in Malta has a long history. Proof of this is the name the Greeks gave Malta. They called the island ‘Melite’ (Μελίτη) which derives from the Greek word ‘meli’ (μέλι) that means honey.

bees

Photo credits: Times of Malta

A sub species of the honey bee (Apis Mellifera Ruttneri) is endemic to the Maltese Islands. This type of bee used to live in the wild. Nowadays you can still find some but they have become very rare due to diseases.

In the past Maltese honey was considered a delicacy and it also used to be exported from the island. It is believed that the Phoenicians introduced the domestication of beekeeping in apiaries and earthenware jars. In fact some Punic apiaries remain. In the Maltese countryside one can still find apiaries called ‘Miġbħa’ that date back to Punic times. One of them is the Xemxija apiary that is one of the oldest in the world. In theory this apiary is still in a state of use, however nowadays the beekeeping technique is different with movable frame hives.

Apiary - Honey making in Malta

Photo credits: Cordyline on Panoramio.

In Malta, until the 1950’s bees were kept in earthenware jars. These type of jars were made of clay and without a bottom. At the top they had a closure with small holes. These jars were kept under carob trees in order to get a good shading from the sun. Sometimes they were also placed in niches in rubble walls made especially for these jars. But those who had the means used to build apiaries in their fields. These apiaries were specially built rooms or caves which had their opening closed by a wall. An opening in the wall would allow the bees to enter the cave.

Honey was gathered once a year after the wild thyme honey season, usually around the Feast of St. Anne which falls on the 26th July. The honey making process is quite a busy one for the beekeeper. He needs to observe the bees at work in order to add extensions to the jar. The gathering of the honey was a little messy too. A long knife was used in order to cut off the combs with honey. The liquid was then placed in a pail or a pot and covered. Before bee smokers were available, the beekeepers used to burn some grass in old cooking pans and extinguish it to make some smoke in order to enter near the bees and not be stung.

These techniques started to change in the 50’s as the first movable frame hives and other tools began to appear. These were generally imported from Britain. The hives were then copied from them and crafted locally. Till today the British Standard hive is common in Malta.

Maltese Honey

Photo credits: Viewing Malta & Mario Galea

In old times honey was a commodity for the general household. Before the invention of sugar refining, honey was the only means of sweetener. It was also cheaper than cane sugar. Although nowadays the whole process has changed, one cannot forget our fathers that without any modern knowledge and tools managed to place Malta in the world map of honey. In fact Maltese honey is still regarded as one of the best around the world.

If you would like to witness some local traditions during your holidays in Malta be sure to speak to our Transport desk during your stay and they will guide you through our list of self guided tours and excursions.

Photo credits: Times of Malta, Viewing Malta & Mario Galea and on Panoramio.

Share Button

Holy Week and Easter in Malta

Easter is a festive, religious and emotional time for both locals and tourists. It is thus no surprise that one find tourists wondering around the towns and villages during the various processions and pageants that take place during the weeks preceding Easter. They try to capture everything that’s happening around them on cameras.

Within the churches, celebrations become truly alive with colours, ornaments, flowers and a great number of devotees. One of the processions that is a crowd puller is the ‘Addolorata, mainly because people identify their own miseries, pain and suffering with those of Holy Mary’s. On Maundy Thursday several local devotees visit the ‘seven churches’ where they kneel, reflect and pray beside the tomb of Christ.

Good_Friday_Exhibition_2

Good Friday gives a sombre outlook where churches are deprived from the traditional ornamental style for a single day. The red colour, resembling the Blood of Christ, is splashed all over the churches. On Good Friday Malta is turned into Roman and Jewish pageantry. In the inner core of villages one comes across Pontius Pilate, Barabbas and other biblical characters during the renowned processions. People do some odd penitence such as carrying heavy weights or walking barefoot! Some even cover up their faces as they pay the price for a special grace they received.

Good_Friday_Procession_14

The atmosphere changes completely the following day in the evening. Celebrations start in pitch darkness. They are then illuminated by flickering candle lights. Finally there is an ‘explosion’ of light, where churches are suddenly illuminated with candles, chandeliers, bulbs and floodlights. Bells toll happily as they break the night’s silence in order to announce Christ’s resurrection, exactly when the singing of the ‘Glorja’ commences.

During these festivities there are some very special and unique Maltese delicacies. The ‘kwarezimal’ and the ‘figolli’ top the list. There are other food items such as the Lent’s ftajjar; Karamelli and hot cross buns. Although in Lent the traditional Maltese fast, yet the street vendors are as busy as bees in keeping up with the heavy demand!

Spend your Easter Holidays in Malta. Contact Our Concierge Desk during your stay and they will advise you on Where to Go and What to Do in Malta during your holidays.

Photo Credits: Viewing Malta & Mario Galea

Share Button

Typical Maltese Traditions

It’s that time of year again when we exchange gifts and well wishes. Yes, Christmas is soon with us and this is a very special time for the Maltese people. The majority of the locals are Catholics and enjoy attending the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the Maltese Christmas traditions which is celebrated during the Midnight Mass is the ‘Priedka tat-Tifel’ meaning preaching of the child. On this special occasion usually a 7 to 10 year old child does the preaching of the sermon instead of the priest, telling the story of the baby Jesus in Betlehem.

Another common activity organized by local churches is a mini pageant with children acting out the story of the Nativity by dressing up as shepherds, and as Joseph and Mary carrying a baby doll. This re-enactment starts at 11pm and is followed by High Mass at midnight.

Traditional Maltese crib

Traditional Maltese Crib

During Christmas time, churches are embellished with lights and nativity cribs called ‘Presepji’. It’s also a tradition to decorate the cribs with figurines, called ‘pasturi’. Cribs date back to centuries ago when they were first introduced in Malta by rich Italian noblemen. They did not become popular until much later and many were actually burnt. It is believed that the first true Maltese crib was built in 1617 and was displayed in the Domenican Friars Church in Rabat. A crib dating back to 1670 can be found in St. Peter’s Monastery in Mdina. This is treasured and looked after by the Benedictine Nuns.

As the popularity of the cribs increased, Maltese started building their own cribs and replaced the Italian ones. Moreover, imported Italian ‘pasturi’ were very expensive and many could not afford to buy them. As a result people started making their own “pasturi” of rough clay and plaster.

Over time the popularity of cribs decreased and by the 20th century they were considered old fashioned. To reverse the declining popularity of Christmas, in 1907, a priest called George Preca founded children’s charity and society called ‘MUSEUM’. In 1921 he started the tradition of a Christmas eve procession during which a life size figurine of Baby Jesus would be carried around at the head of the procession.

Xmas Street decorations

Christmas Street Decorations

In 1921, on Christmas Eve in the streets of Hamrun, locals gathered to partake in the procession. The streets were lit up with different types of lamps, lanterns and Venetian light to light up the path for the procession. The idea became very popular with people of all ages and so the very special Maltese tradition started. These processions are still popular today and form part of the Christmas Eve celebrations.

The Festive element is also seen in several Maltese households which are decorated with cribs, wreaths, candles and all kinds of decorations. It is also a very common practice to place a figurine of baby Jesus in the crib in the window lit up at night. Maltese families set up the Christmas tree and Christmas decorations at home. Although English is widely spoken and English Christmas carols are very popular, Maltese have their own Christmas carol ‘Ninni la tibkix izjed’ which translates to sleep and cry no more. Similarly to many other countries, presents are delivered by Father Christmas or Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and are opened in the early morning of Christmas Day.

Christmas is also celebrated at schools with children acting during their Christmas concert. They do Christmas themed plays, mimes, poetry recitals, Christmas Carols and many others. It is also a common practice for classes to organize a small party prior to the Christmas holidays. Children bring some homemade food, presents are exchanged and a donation is collected for one of the local charities.

In the past, the traditional Maltese Christmas meal differed from today’s. Nowadays families eat Turkey, Christmas Cake, Christmas Pudding and Minced Pies; which is a result of the British influence during their rule in Malta. Traditionally, the Maltese house-wife would keep the largest rooster, ‘hasi’ for Christmas Lunch, which was roasted at the local bakery in a casserole full of potatoes and vegetables. The traditional dessert served at Christmas was the Treacle Ring, ‘Qaghqa tal-Ghasel’, and to finish it off, a hot Chestnut and Cocoa Soup, ‘Imbuljuta tal-Qastan’, which was and is served as a cosy night cap during the cold December days in Malta.

Visiting Malta this Festive Season? Celebrate the Christmas spirit at a luxury hotel in Malta and if you’d like to visit some of the traditional Maltese cribs and enjoy the local Christmas atmosphere kindly speak to Our Concierge Team.

Share Button