🎄 Christmas jumpers, imbuljuta tal- Qastan and the midnight mass

In the coming days, everyone around you will seem a tad more pleasant than usual. Even work will feel more tolerable when compared to the rest of the year. It’s a time when everything tends to sound and look better; especially if you’re an avid Christmas fan.

It’s one week until Christmas and, despite all that has been going on, the air is buzzing with cheer. Or perhaps it’s just me and my incessant obsession with this holiday.  On December first, we open the first tiny window of our advent calendar, overload our Spotify accounts with Christmas music, and start thinking of showering the fronts of our homes with blinking decorative lights (and sometimes even overdoing it).  All this sets the tone for the upcoming month and puts our little customs into motion.

Traditions are comforting, nice even. They’re like a familiar smell you randomly come across on a given day that takes you back to your childhood days. The nostalgic memories of Christmas past, if you will. Do you sometimes find yourself missing sitting cozily on the couch, your hands cupped around a warm mug of imbuljuta tal-Qastan your grandma just made whilst munching on some fresh out-of-the-oven mince pies on Christmas eve?

As a child, I used to spend every Christmas Eve at my grandma’s with the rest of the family. After that, we attended the Midnight mass and as children, tried hard not to snooze off in the dim lights during the extremely long sermon of the child. I loved every second of Christmas eve. Loved – because as we grew older, that little family tradition of ours dissipated.

Every family has its own traditions which inevitably change with the passage of time. Children grow up, move out, embark on their own journeys and create their own new thing. Still, change brings about the birth of new traditions which can be just as exciting.

When compared to other countries and given that no distance is great on this little island of ours, we remain close to our families and not just in physical proximity. To date, we tend to celebrate this day with our closest relatives and try to make up for lost time with friends. That is probably one of the reasons why we send out a bazillion greeting cards to everyone we have ever known in December.

Another thing that always fascinated me as a child – probably because of the Home Alone movies I used to watch – was the Christmas tree. I remembered being in awe of how grand it stood with gifts piled neatly underneath it. Back then, I also remember my mother pointing out that the Christmas tree hadn’t always been part of our tradition. Most Maltese catholic families make the crib and baby Jesus as the main centerpieces during the festive season to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas; the birth of Christ. Some would even go on to argue that no crib is complete without the decorative Gulbiena (vetches). Growing the plant in darkness was a task, that as kids, we took to heart. We checked on it every single day to the point of feeling proudly triumphant upon seeing its stringy white shoots sprouting from its watered cotton bed.

Setting up the Christmas tree, however, is now a tradition well embedded in the Maltese culture. We spend hours decorating our homes, which although sometimes we do so excessively, it still makes up for good family quality time. Something which lately, and admittedly, we seem to be lacking. It’s not the first time I’ve been to a café and sitting nearby is a family of four completely lost in four different digital worlds.

The spirit of Christmas, less the commercial hype, is associated with acts of giving, selflessness, and kindness. In this excessively consumeristic reality of ours, it would not be the first time you’d hear someone admitting that the true meaning of Christmas is lost and has now been replaced with all that is materialistic. However, and to date, for many locals, the Christmas season is not merely a frenzy period of gift shopping but rather, it’s more about being part of the communal experience. For instance, as kids, we never missed the children’s procession, singing and holding candle-lit paper lanterns as we roamed our village streets. This is something most towns and villages have been organising for years and still do.

Then on Christmas day, my family and I prepare lunch together and spend the day in each other’s company watching Christmas films and playing board games. Lunch on this day is a celebratory meal that takes time both to prepare and to eat. It usually involves a hearty three-course meal starting off with pasta or soup, turkey and roast potatoes plus a vegetable casserole (which used to be baked at the local bakery) undeniably followed by dessert, coffee, and liquour.  A couple of hours in, and tea, treacle rings, and mince pies are also served. Where food is concerned, traditions like these tend to stick around for quite a while on these islands.

It’s nice to have our own little traditions. Looking back, we reminiscence on childhood memories that we’re fond of. Looking ahead, a little change to what we’re used to doesn’t hurt either. Wearing funny Christmas jumpers, hanging Christmas stockings, exchanging gifts and indulging in Christmas inspired ginger lattes and cookies with friends and family, are seasonal traditions that make December special.

 

Featured on the Times of Malta Christmas Magazine, 2018