Malta Diary Never a dull moment as December brings a bumper 2014 to its close
It seems only yesterday we were popping the champagne corks to greet 2014 and now we have embarked to mid-way December to bring this bumper year to a close and yet even in December there is more to come.
Well, it has certainly not been a dull year by any means. On 31st March the islands celebrated the 35th anniversary of Freedom Day, when the last British troops left Malta. 1st May marked ten years of full EU Membership. A greater event was celebrated on 21st September marking 50 years of Independence from Britain.
The year 2014 also commemorated the 250th anniversary since the birth of Dun Mikiel Anton Vassalli, the Zebbug-born priest who produced the first-ever official publications in the Maltese language, Vassalli wrote and published the first Maltese-Italian Dictionary, a Maltese Grammar, the Gospels in Maltese and a book of Maltese proverbs.
Interspersed in all these there was also the commemoration of the centenary of the start of the First World War in 1914 and the 65th anniversary of the start of the Second World War in 1939.
Not to be outdone, December also had a clutch of activities. The 8th of December was an auspicious day in the Maltese religious calendar, this being the feast of The Immaculate Conception, a national holiday and a Day of Obligation throughout the Roman Catholic world.
This is celebrated in one of Malta’s oldest cities, Cospicua (in Maltese known as Bormla), its Latin name Cospicua (meaning conspicuous, recognised, outstanding) having been gained as a result of the city’s solid resistance to the Ottoman Siege of 1565. It is the only outdoor Maltese festa celebrated in winter and although the weather is not always clement, it is always ever popular.
Indeed, the titular statue of the Madonna is reputed to be the finest throughout the Maltese islands and this grand festa has a special place in all Cospicuan hearts, together with the pride of the city in having provided one of Malta’s Prime Ministers and one of Malta’s Presidents.
The 13th of December marked another auspicious day marking 40 years since Malta was declared a Republic and for the first time ever a Maltese national was declared Head of State.
Oh yes, and there is also the small matter of Christmas and gearing up for a New Year – much impeded upon by the usual serpent of gross commercialism with all its emphasis on presents, food, drinks, parties and celebrations.
However, it has not as yet become totally heathen and mainly secular in Malta and Gozo because the strong traditional elements have remained. There are of course street lights and jingling bells, but also a proliferation of public cribs of the nativity scene as well as a glut of private cribs made by amateurs but open to public viewing – many of them with mechanical movement and running water. Many Maltese homes have the traditional Christmas crib.
Religious services are high profile and attendance at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve has remained as strong as ever.
However, the high-profile scoop has been achieved by the Gozitan village of Ghajsielem which a few years ago hit the idea of organising a “live Bethlehem” scenario, including a live nativity stable with animals and human beings depicting the scene in an ongoing pageant.
The event kicked off on Sunday, 7th December with a live pageant/procession involving over 150 amateur actors and the whole scenario will continue right up to Christmas Eve, including a traditional “Bethlehem Inn”, a two-storey building in which one can book a night’s stay and enjoy the traditional electricity-free/no running water discomforts.
Naturally, there will also be loads of traditional Maltese and Gozitan food and a liberal flow of wine.
Indeed, in these islands, never a dull moment.