Why Malta's Culture is Unique in the Mediterranean

It’s a sunshine island whose festivals take their cues from Roman Catholicism and whose meals are characterised by strong rustic flavours.

Malta has plenty of characteristics and cultural perks that let it stand apart from its Mediterranean neighbours. Below are a few of the most striking traditions for you to learn about ahead of your Maltese holiday.

Saints and festivals

The spiritual links behind many of Malta’s most distinctive festivals and street parties are easy to identify, but it’s all done without a scrap of pretence.

Instead, it’s all fun, food and music at the ‘festas’ that take place throughout Malta in the spring and summer. Those feasts are put on to commemorate the great saints of the Catholic church, although to many modern Maltese people and the holidaymakers who join in the revelry, it’s as much an excuse to eat, drink and be merry.

Each year more than 60 festas take place in spring and summer, so across an island of Malta’s size, it’s safe to say you could stumble upon some by chance. You’ll soon know about it when you have, with the churches decorated with white fairy-lights and the streets full of laughter and colour.

To make sure you’re a part of the island’s biggest festa, head to Sliema in the final week of July for the Feast of the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Malta's biggest festival

Sliema’s festa pulls no punches, with the evening sky blazing with fireworks that leave an aroma of gunpowder hanging in the air.

In the heat and sunshine there’s plenty to do too, as the streets are garlanded in bunting and banners.

The main thoroughfares to the church are framed by stalls selling locally made crafts, as well as cold drinks to beat the heat. Ice creams and cakes are also a popular choice, and it’s here you’ll find the local variety of nutty nougat, the qubbajt, rich with sugary goodness.

Of course, the entire festa is a celebration of the saints, so a procession is to be expected.

Hundreds of people line up to follow the traditional statue of the patron saint on its traditional three-kilometre journey, which can take a while given the size and weight of the effigy itself. For centuries it has been done this way though, carried to the church by eight Maltese men.

Music with wit

The folkloric tunes of ghana music – the unique music form of Malta, not to be confused with the African country of the same name – is as Maltese as traditions come. It’s a blend of Arabic lilts and plucky notes from Sicily, backed up by Maltese ingenuity.

Singing has long been a cheerful pastime for the Maltese, who engage in it daily as they go about their rural lives.

Visitors to Malta often remark on how well the people seem to naturally weave songs, stories and rhymes together, and what has evolved over time is almost like the folk tunes version of the modern rap battle.

You’ll see it when visiting in the form of two musicians on guitars, mouth organs or accordions throwing lyrics at one another, from light-hearted jibes to quick-witted rhymes, and then challenge the other musician to match it.

Street sellers have also taken the tradition to heart, so don’t be surprised if two vendors competing to sell you some trinkets do so by singing cheerfully about what a wally the other guy is.

In fact, that duality is a distinctive part of the Maltese people. Friendly rivalries are a notable part of the culture here, be they serious political debates or friendly football teams clashing opinions over the latest game.

The Maltese are known for picking a side and sticking to their argument strongly, but you needn’t worry if there’s one thing the people here can agree on, it’s that holidaymakers are always welcome.

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