Monday, April 16, 2012

Easter in Valletta & Malta

This year we headed to Valletta for its Easter celebrations...

Ta Liesse church, Valletta

The oddly sized stairs in Valletta's streets were designed to allow the Knights of St. John to climb them in heavy armour. Imagine!

Victoria Gate, Valletta

Maltese balconies decorated for Easter

I wonder how many years she has been watching Easter celebrations pass by her Maltese balcony?

Hey, handsome.

Good Friday procession, St. Usrula's Street, Valletta

Yes, that's a real tree they are carrying!

Good Friday Procession 2012, Valletta

St. Ursula Street, Valletta

Some Easter procession participants walk bare-footed as penitence.

Easter in Malta is bigger than Christmas. This was a bit of a culture shock for us Canadians, where Easter really just signals the start of spring and a good excuse to eat too many aluminium tasting chocolate eggs. But in Malta, where 98% of the population is Roman Catholic, naturally Easter is a deeply significant cultural and religious holiday. You can read a great explanation of Easter traditions in Malta here.

What was Easter like this year? On Maundy Thursday (which I didn't even know even had a name until this year) the Maltese pay a visit to seven different churches on the island to pray, and joyous church bells rang all day. On Good Friday the whole island seemed subdued - less traffic, few shops open, and although it was bright and sunny this year the day seemed (even to us foreigners) to have a general air of sadness hanging over it.

In Malta, the most notable Easter tradition is the Good Friday procession. There are 17 held on the island and this year we went to see one in Valletta at the church of Ta Giezu. The procession was long, slow, and very solemn. Bands played sad music, like the Last Post (a little bit of Malta's British heritage shining through)Everyone in the procession wears full costume or religious garments, and a very serious face. Even the children (and there were many in the procession) looked horribly sad.

But on Saturday life returned to normal - cafes, restaurants, and shops were bustling with people doing last minute Easter shopping. We stopped into our favourite restaurant that night while walking the dogs to pick up a dessert to takeaway. In the spirit of true Maltese hospitality, it was on the house. Happy Easter! the strawberry torte is on us! We love that place.

On Easter Sunday church bells peeled all morning, although many of the (happier) religious processions were cancelled that day due to a rain storm that blew across the island. Typically, during these Sunday processions the statues pictured above are joyously run through the village, up and down hills, instead of being solemnly carried. But it's hard to imagine running with a giant statue on your back on the wet, slick streets of Malta. When it rains in Malta the roads here are almost as slippery as ice!

We had friends over for dinner that evening for Easter pasta (thanks guys!) It wasn't your typical Easter meal, but hey, it worked for us.

This was our first Easter in Malta, because in previous years we had been studying at the University of Malta and took advantage of its two-week Easter break to travel throughout Europe. Last year we were in Greece for Easter and it was crazy - almost as big as Maltese Easter. The roads were jam packed full of people driving out of Athens to spend the weekend with their family, making Easter weekend the most dangerous weekend of the year to drive in Greece. Of course, it was the weekend we took a road trip through the Greek mountains. On Easter Sunday we ended up in Thira on the island of Santorini and received special pastries and red-dyed hard-boiled eggs as special Easter treats in our hotel room. The Maltese also make special food for Easter - the famed figolla - an almond cake covered in colourful icing.

What was Easter like where you live? Is it celebrated, is it big? Have you ever travelled abroad for Easter, and if so, what was it like? Do share!

- Jess

ps. Local's tip - It was impossible to find a route or schedule for the Good Friday procession in Valletta online. So for future procession goers: It started at Ta Giezu around 5:30-6 pm and wound its way through the main streets of the city, ending around 8-9 pm. If you're going to be in Valletta for this procession in the future don't bother showing up early. We (mistakenly) did, but our good view was quickly ruined by tourists elbowing their way in front of us. Also, if you plan on eating dinner in Valletta it may be wise to book ahead. We ate at La Mere (it was, as always, superb) and by the end of the night there was a queue of hungry people outside.


  1. I too was shocked by the seriousness of Easter here (like you, in Canada, Easter marked pulling our bikes out of the shed, finding our Easter baskets filled with candy & clothes and eating turkey.) In Gabon, Good Friday was a working day but Easter Monday was a holiday. There was also a fairly large procession by our house (the Catholic Church is directly behind us.) They stopped on the road in front of our apartment and sang, knelt, prayed and then returned to church. It was the first time I'd ever witnessed it!

    1. How cool! Good Friday was the day off here, Easter Monday was pretty much just another day. Thanks for sharing!

  2. they really get into the holiday there! i love that :)

    easter in norway is basically not celebrated in a religious sense (nothing here is) but more or less an excuse to not work for 10 days or something like that. i like the time off, but i guess i have a hard time understanding it...or why its not called spring break...and celebrated as easter when most people dont believe in religion here. oh well :) they basically just go to cabins for a week or travel...or just simply relax and enjoy warm weather. but this year it was apparently kind of cold :) lucky for me, i was in the south of europe!

    goodness those photos in malta are making me want to head back south immediately!

    1. I had no idea that there was a spring break in Norway, thats fascinating. Is it an official country wide thing, or just a school holiday?

      You should definitely head down south again soon, would love to see you in Malta!

  3. I loved reading your recount of Easter, including Good Friday. I was in Malta then experiencing the same and went to Vittoriosa and Cospicua on Good Friday. Wished I'd known you 2 when I was there and we could have met up for a 'tea' so maybe next time : )

    1. What was it like in the Three Cities at Easter? Maybe next time!


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