For some, Christmas in Malta may seem to lack the charm of the season when compared with the attractive winter tableaux in other countries: pristine countryside with trees covered with snow, families happily huddled by the fireplace, and the Christmas markets with stalls full to the brim with crafts, warm drinks and cookies.
But these sweet depictions are not all true, not even in northern European countries. As to others, such as in the United States, if it is not a “white Christmas”, then Americans tend to think the holiday is lacking, even a failure! Everywhere, merchants and businessmen have abused Christmas for their own benefit, using imaginative pressure on people to spend their money on trifles. There are omnipresent messages on radio, television and magazines, sidelining the traditional aspect of Christmas while promoting ways to buy happiness as entertainment or commercial opportunity. Advertisements tempt buyers on television and on social media; products are displayed nicely with festive borders, snowflakes, icicles, stars, flying sleighs; the Christmas tree, and the white-bearded gentleman in red. This flurry of wintery magic may tempt us to consider our Maltese Christmas as merely a common class event; we put up snowflake displays, where snowflakes never fall, and we tend to become enthralled by advertising’s illusion into a disappointed Christmas of dreams.
Yet, it is important to recall that year after year, in many countries including those still traditionally Christian, the desire to make money has taken over, sadly, in place of the true and lasting goods of Christmas. I do not envy those who observe a Christmas marked solely by Father Christmas going around for no particular reason with his extravagant presents. No amount of money can buy the priceless spiritual experience of Christmas – which is bringing the Good News of the newborn Jesus and with it joy and peace to all people, everywhere.
Far from the media-spun scenarios of Christmas, there is our Maltese Christmas which one may still see anywhere in the country. Anywhere in the Maltese islands one can find a true Christmas treasure of spiritual warmth, from the farthest small chapel to the village church. I may just point to any chapel run by Sisters in any convent; this is what added to my own experience in the true reality of Christmas: Immanuel! Christ is born! A tidy chapel, decorated in a simple way but with quiet beauty, speaks of the wondrous gift of the Prince of Peace and invites the visitor to reflect both on Advent and on the meaning of Christmas.
I do not long for a Christmas of illusion or dreams, especially when I am looking at a small crib made by a loving hand or when I let my eyes gaze at Baby Jesus in a street window, nicely lit and flanked by the ‘ġulbiena’ (vetches). Joy appears upon noticing a little child coming out from the catechism lesson during the Christmas Novena with the “grotta” (small crib), which he happily hugs on his way home. I am not attracted to artistic nativity statues (made often in atheist countries under conditions of cruel exploitation) when I see the simplicity of the “pasturi tat-tafal” (nativity clay statues). And, above all, on Christmas Eve, I cherish the Maltese tradition of the procession of Baby Jesus, surrounded by “fanali” (candle-lit lamps); through the streets and villages, the sign of God’s love is carried to the joy of children and adults singing Maltese carols.
Yes, I love the Maltese Christmas! And I do love other Christmases, too, as long as the people recall the reason for the celebration and present the true experience of Christmas.
By Joe Galea