Although the official Easter period begins on Palm Sunday, Malta’s festivities pick up during the Holy Week that concludes with the Easter Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. The commemorations begin on the Friday prior to Good Friday, with the practice of carrying the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows through the village streets. If you are interested in seeing this procession first hand, Valletta is an excellent place to witness the historic demonstration.
The Holy Week carries through from the procession of Our Lady of Sorrows to the final celebrations on Easter Sunday.
Maundy Thursday is the day prior to Good Friday and is a remembrance of The Last Supper. Churches create model scale representations of The Last Supper and the Easter story and Altars of Repose, which are decorated with white flowers. People participate in a tradition entitled ‘The Seven Visits’, which entails visiting The Altars of Repose in seven different churches. The most prevalent places to visit one of these stunningly decorated altars would be one of the Three Cities.
Good Friday in Malta is a day of solemn remembrance and atonement. Churches are stripped of their ornamental decorations, with the color red being symbolically splashed around the building to replicate the blood of Christ being spilled. No masses occur on this Holy day, however a special service is held in the afternoon which consists of The Word of God, The Holy Communion, and The Adoration of the Cross. Several processions occur in various parishes throughout Malta in which statues are carried through the villages and towns in a sober fashion, in symbolism of the Passion of the Christ. These statues individually represent an installment of the Passion of the Christ and are carried by bearers who are dressed in costumes depicting Biblical characters. There are approximately ten statues in total and are customarily crafted by local artisans. Each statue can take between six to eight men to bear the weight.
Funeral marches are played by resident bands as the procession files through the town. These processions generally encompass a cast of several hundred people, sometimes even horses, and are quite lengthy in time. The large scale of these processions have caused them to become quite a tourist attraction with the most visited in the location of Zebbug, which is known for its extravagance. Here you can see Roman soldiers on horseback or in chariots and participants in large white robes.
Holy Saturday remains a somber time where devoted followers and tourists alike gather in the squares of the churches to witness a special celebration venerating the Rising of Christ. During this celebration the church begins in darkness and is slowly re-lighting with glistening candlelight until finally every light bulb, chandelier, and candle illuminates the building. The bells toll is a proclamation of Christ’s resurrection. At the exact moment of the resurrection, you can hear the hymn Glorja being sang by the choir.
Holy Saturday is a popular day for Baptisms to take place, both for converted followers and young children.
Easter Sunday begins with a triumphant morning procession in which the statue of the Resurrected Christ is carried high upon the shoulders of the town’s parishioners. The parading of the statue is quite up tempo, with those carrying the statue actually running through the streets as the crowds applaud. Some onlookers throw paper confetti from balconies and windows. The local bands no longer play the solemn funeral processional music, but instead blast cheerful brass compositions. Children accompany the procession, carrying the figolla with them. A figolla is a traditional Maltese pastry which is almond-filled, covered with icing sugar, and in the shape of a rabbit, a lamb, a fish, or a heart. During the procession, the children hold the figollas up as the statue of the Risen Christ goes past in order to have it blessed.
Unlike other countries that focus on Easter supper, the Maltese focus on the lunch period of the holiday. The entire family gathers to eat and drink together and exchange small Easter gifts, such as small chocolate eggs. The Easter lunch usually consists of lamb, potatoes, and vegetables. A slice of figolla follows the meal as a dessert.