Local customs in Malta: if you think there’s nothing but festivities in this small country in the south of the European Union, think again! Malta has always occupied a strategic position in all European and world wars, starting with the great Wars of Religion that swept across Europe. What’s more, Malta has plenty of surprises in store, not just because of its history, but also because of its impressive modernity and its many investments. Thanks to an advantageous tax policy, the country has succeeded in attracting a large number of companies and expatriates. Today, Malta is also home to an Italian-speaking, French-speaking and Arabic-speaking community. Malta is a land of encounters, which manages to combine ancestral traditions with adaptation to a young and frenzied era!
Religion plays an important role in Maltese society
Malta is a country strongly imbued with religion, and religious traditions play an important role in the daily lives of its inhabitants. The main religion in Malta is Catholicism, which is closely linked to the Maltese national identity.
The majority of Maltese are practising Catholics, and the Catholic Church plays a central role in the spiritual and social life of the population. Catholicism is taught in state schools, and many Maltese regularly attend mass and take part in religious activities throughout the year.
Religious festivals are particularly important in Malta. Each Maltese town and village celebrates its own patron saint’s day, usually dedicated to a particular saint. These festivities are marked by spectacular religious processions, fireworks, music, traditional dances and festive decorations. The Maltese often spend months preparing for these festivities, which are a highlight of community life and Maltese identity.
Holy Week, which precedes Easter, is also of particular importance in Malta. The Holy Week processions are impressive and attract many visitors. The Maltese attend religious ceremonies, take part in processions and observe specific traditions, such as decorating the streets with colourful carpets and religious statues.
As well as religious festivities, religion also influences other aspects of Maltese life. For example, Sunday is traditionally a day of rest and prayer, and many commercial activities are restricted to that day. The Maltese attach great importance to family and traditional values, which are often influenced by their religious faith.
However, it should be noted that Malta is also a country open to religious diversity, and other faiths are present, albeit to a lesser extent. There are Protestant, Orthodox and Muslim communities, as well as other religions represented by residents and international visitors.
Malta, a superb festive experience
Malta is renowned for its many festivals, both religious and pagan!
- Holy Week festivities : Holy Week is a time of major religious celebration in Malta. Towns and villages organise impressive processions, theatrical representations of the Passion of Christ, street decorations and religious ceremonies. The festivities culminate in celebrations on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
- Patronal festivals: Each Maltese town and village celebrates its own patronal festival, dedicated to a particular saint. These festivities include religious processions, fireworks, music, folk dancing, festive decorations and community activities. Patronal feasts are highlights of the year, when the Maltese come together to celebrate their cultural and religious heritage.
- Carnival: Carnival is a lively celebration that precedes Lent. The Maltese dress up, organise parades, street performances, dances and costume contests. The town of Nadur in Gozo is particularly renowned for its carnival, which is known for its relaxed atmosphere and creativity.
- Independence Day: On 21 September, Malta celebrates its Independence Day, commemorating the end of the British colonial presence in 1964. Official events and ceremonies take place across the country, including parades, speeches and fireworks.
- Music festivals: Malta hosts a variety of music festivals throughout the year, attracting both local and international artists. Among the most popular festivals are the Malta Jazz Festival, the Isle of MTV, the Malta International Arts Festival and the Earth Garden Festival, which showcase a variety of musical genres.
- Christmas and New Year celebrations: The festive season is celebrated with enthusiasm in Malta. Streets are decorated with festive lights, traditional nativity scenes are displayed and churches hold midnight masses and other religious celebrations. The New Year is also celebrated with spectacular fireworks displays and festive events.
Malta’s culinary specialities are varied, with both sweet and savoury dishes, particularly pastizzis, a very popular sweet. Pastizzis are puff pastries stuffed with pea purée. There’s also the Ftira or Ftira omelette sandwich. Food plays an essential role in Maltese culture. But we’re not going to reveal too much! If you’re interested in Malta’s culinary specialities, check out our dedicated blog: International Horizons is always happy to talk about food!
Malta, rich in heritage
Malta doesn’t get enough recognition for the richness of its heritage, and that’s a shame, because the island is full of great things to see and do, and has preserved a rich heritage that bears witness to its history.
- The old town of Valletta: Valletta is the capital of Malta and was founded in the 16th century. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved Baroque architecture and historical significance. Valletta is surrounded by imposing fortifications and is home to many sites of interest, such as St John’s Co-Cathedral, a masterpiece of Baroque art, and the Palace of the Grand Masters, now the seat of the Maltese Parliament.
- The Church of Mosta: The parish church of Mosta, also known as the Rotunda of Mosta or the Immaculate Conception, is another of Malta’s architectural gems. It is famous for its massive dome, considered to be the third largest in the world. The church is famous for a miraculous event that occurred during the Second World War: a bomb fell through the roof of the church during a mass, but failed to explode, sparing the lives of hundreds of worshippers.
- Malta’s megalithic temples: Malta is famous for its megalithic temples, which date back over 5,000 years, predating the pyramids of Egypt. The temples of Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra and Tarxien are among the most important sites. These impressive stone structures bear witness to the advanced prehistoric civilisation that flourished on the Maltese archipelago.
- The fortified towns of Mdina and Birgu: Mdina, also known as the “Silent City”, is an ancient fortified town perched on a hill. It is famous for its medieval architecture, picturesque streets and panoramic views over the island. Birgu, also known as Vittoriosa, is another historic fortified town. It is home to imposing bastions, palaces and churches, as well as the Malta Maritime Museum.
- The underground temples of Hal Saflieni: The underground temples of Ħal Saflieni, also known as the Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni, are a unique prehistoric underground structure. This complex of chambers and passages cut into the rock was used both as a burial site and for religious rituals. It is considered one of the most important sites of the Neolithic era and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These examples represent just a small part of Malta’s rich heritage. Malta has many other historical, architectural and cultural sites that bear witness to its fascinating past and cultural diversity.
The family in Malta
The concept of the family in Malta is traditionally centred on strong values such as family unity, loyalty and mutual support. The family is considered to be one of the cornerstones of Maltese society and plays a central role in the lives of individuals.
The Maltese family is often large, comprising several generations living under the same roof or in close proximity to each other. Family ties are generally close and family members place great importance on spending time together and supporting each other.
Family roles are often traditionally divided, with specific expectations for each member of the family. Parents are generally responsible for providing for the family, while women are often in charge of domestic tasks and bringing up children. However, it is important to note that these roles are gradually changing, with increasing participation of women in the labour market and greater gender equality.
The Catholic religion also has a significant influence on the conception of the family in Malta. Religious values, such as fidelity, love and respect, are often considered essential in family relationships. Religious observance, including regular attendance at Sunday Mass as a family, can be an important aspect of Maltese family life.
Family festivities and traditions also play a central role. Occasions such as patron saint’s days and Christmas and Easter celebrations are often an opportunity for families to get together, share traditional meals and strengthen family ties.
It should be noted that the concept of the family in Malta is gradually evolving, under the influence of factors such as urbanisation, education, social and economic change. Maltese families can also present a diversity of family structures, with single-parent families, blended families or childless couples.
Customs and traditions in Malta
- Maltese hospitality: The Maltese are renowned for their warmth and hospitality. When you are invited into a Maltese home, it is common to receive a warm welcome and to be treated generously. Hosts often offer food and drink to guests, and make sure that everyone feels comfortable and welcome.
- Greetings: Traditional greetings in Malta consist of a handshake and an exchange of kisses on the cheeks (usually three times, starting with the right cheek). It is customary to say “good morning” (bonġu) or “good evening” (bonswa) when meeting someone, as well as saying “goodbye” (ċaw) when leaving.
- Politeness: The Maltese attach great importance to good manners and politeness. It is common to use polite phrases such as “please” (jekk jogħġbok) and “thank you” (grazzi) in everyday interactions. It is also considered impolite to speak loudly or cut someone off during a conversation.
- Meals: Meals are often the occasion for bringing family and friends together in Malta. Maltese meals are generally hearty and often include several courses. It is customary to share dishes in the centre of the table and to ensure that everyone is served before starting to eat. During a meal, it is also appreciated to compliment the food and thank the host.
- Festivals and processions: Religious festivities play an important role in Maltese culture. Religious processions, often accompanied by brass bands and fireworks, are organised during the patron saint festivals of the various towns and villages. The Maltese take an active part in these festivities, which also include religious ceremonies, parades and community activities.
- The afternoon siesta: A time-honoured Maltese tradition is the afternoon siesta, known as the “riposo” or “siesta”. It’s common to take an afternoon break to rest up, especially on hot summer days. Many businesses may close during this period and activities may slow down until the temperatures drop.
- Village festivals: The patron saint festivals of Maltese towns and villages are major events. They include religious processions, fireworks, music, folk dancing and lively festivities. The Maltese are proud of their village and take an active part in the preparations and celebrations for these festivities.
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