Traditionally April Fool’s Day is a day of celebration filled with practical jokes and happy hoaxes, often in major media. On this day in 1700, English pranksters began popularising the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on each other.
Recent academic research has revealed that April Fools’ Day is linked to ancient festivals such as ‘Hilaria’, which was celebrated in Rome when people dressed-up in disguise. There is a theory that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature herself fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather. This is a joke you will be spared in Malta which enjoys over 330 sunny days each year and from January to March, temperatures are in the mid-50’s early-60’s typically long days with around six hours of sunshine. Interestingly, Valletta tops Ryanair’s list of sun-drenched cities and claims we enjoy 2,957 hours of sunshine annually!
Radio, tabloids, TV broadcasters and websites have maintained the April 1st tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have duped their long-suffering audiences. Notably in a 1957 news broadcast, the BBC who are renowned for their objectivity reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed clear footage of people harvesting noodles from trees; thousands of viewers at the time were fooled, perhaps somewhat less-worldly and less-travelled than their contemporaries today who have easy access to low-cost airlines.
While Easter-time is the indication of the beginning of spring to the people of Malta, most of the celebrations are of a religious nature occurring on the streets and in churches across the island. With countless festivals, processions, passion plays, marches, and various other celebrations, Easter week in Malta is notably more commemorated than Christmas.
For the Maltese, our official Easter period begins on Palm Sunday, festivities then garner momentum during the Holy Week that concludes with the Easter Triduum; Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. This year, Good Friday is on March 30, and in many villages across the Islands the villagers will be struggling under the weight of statues of Our Lady of Sorrows as they undertake penance for all the village to see. In both Mosta and Qormi, many of those successful in bidding for a place to carry the statue wear tall cylindrical white masks that have cones half a metre above their heads. Some labour with heavy chains fastened to their ankles or walk barefoot as a sign of piety. Each statue can take between six to eight men to bear the weight.
Funeral marches are played by local brass bands as the procession files through the village. These processions generally encompass a cast of hundreds, often lasting several hours. Some of the parades contain horses as well as people, or people dressed in Roman costumes, swords and all. The large scale of these processions are attractions to locals and visitors alike, drawing in crowds so large that stands are built so that families and the elderly can watch the entire spectacle in comfort.
On Easter Sunday, children and adults tuck into their figolla. A potent memory for almost every Maltese citizen, the prized 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. The Easter holidays bring some favourite foods such as Kusksu, a traditional bean soup. Qaghaq ta’ l-Appostli, Apostles’ bread rings, is another hit following the discipline of Lent. Kwarezimal is also popular filled with grated orange rind, snappy spices, mellowing milk, honey, blossom water and almonds.
On Easter Sunday, lunch is the most important meal of the day. Easter lunch usually consists of lamb, potatoes, and vegetables. A slice of figolla follows the meal as a dessert. At The Phoenicia our Executive Chef Daniel Debattista has planned a wonderful Easter celebration of delicious dishes, and we will be seeing the first harvest from the Chef’s Kitchen Garden planted in mid-January within the hotel’s magnificent 7.5 acres of sun-drenched gardens.
Whatever your beliefs, Easter today represents a time for celebration of new life, spring and fertility. Named by the UK’s Observer newspaper as one of the top ten sunspots to escape Britain’s endless winter, Malta basks in bright sunshine for those famous 330 days each year, with sun, local traditions and good food playing a big part in Easter celebrations on the island. Whether you are religious or not, Easter in Malta is a beautiful sight to see, rich in history, traditions, and emotions.