The culture of Malta is the result of the many different societies that came in contact with the Maltese Islands throughout history, including cultures of neighboring countries, cultures of nations that ruled Malta for long centuries, and other influences from tourism and media.
The culture of modern Malta is a rich one, composed of traditions, beliefs and practices that resulted out of a long process of adaptation and assimilation of different societies over time. Subjected to these historic processes, the Maltese culture also incorporated the linguistic and ethnic admixture that defines who the Maltese people are.
The Maltese culture of today can be effectively defined as being Latin European with influences from the British period of history quite evident. Arab influences are very apparent in the Maltese language and perhaps a bit in the Mediterranean diet. Latin European influences remain predominant mainly because of the island’s rulers in the past eight centuries as well as the fact that Malta shares religious beliefs and many traditions with its Sicilian and Southern European neighbors.
Maltese people celebrate the contributions to their culture of Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Normans, Sicilians, Swabians, Arogonese, Castilian, the Knights, and the British. Maltese claim little knowledge of or are ambivalent about the northern Africans who contributed the foundation of their language, however. The nation became independent in 1964, and became a republic in the British Commonwealth in 1974. Although identification with Europe remains strong, it has been tempered by a strong emphasis on nationalism and neutrality coupled with the idea of forming a cultural bridge between Europe and northern Africa.
Malta is relatively homogeneous by modern standards. A Jewish community numbers about one hundred twenty, and settlers from India number about sixty. Perhaps six hundred Maltese are married to Arabs, mostly Libyans and Palestinians.
A few basics of the Maltese culture:
- The Maltese culture is a combination that comes alive by different societies that interacted with the Maltese people over time.
- The Maltese are a very devout Catholic nation, and religion still has an important place in the modern Maltese society.
- Maltese people spend a lot of time and energy discussing politics. Especially as the general elections draw closer.
The Maltese language is the only semitic language written in Latin Alphabet.
In every locality, large or small, a feast is organised in honour of either the patron saint (festa titulari) or the ‘second in importance’ saint (festa sekondarja). Not all parishes have two annual feasts. Some parishes have only one. In the parishes with two traditional feasts, rivalry between one group of parishioners and the other will be at its best starting from a week or two before the feast day in question. This is manifested through the programme of activities organised by band clubs and confraternities.
Feasts are occasions of great rejoicing. This is further expressed through enriched church decorations, liturgical functions, street illuminations, fireworks, band programmes and open-air entertainment. Some feasts have particular traditions. A case in point is the water regatta held during the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity celebrated at 1-Isla, a seaside locality. With only a few exceptions, the majority of localities organise their feasts between April and September. This period of time is referred to by the locals as the ‘festa season’. Only the parishes of St Paul’s Shipwreck (one of the three Valletta parishes), St Joseph (Rabat, Malta) and the Immaculate Conception (Bormla) organise their feasts according to the Church’s liturgical calendar.
Feast celebrations fall into two categories: those held inside the church, and those held in the streets, squares and band clubs of the parish. Church feast helpers start planning for some two months beforehand. The first thing the church sexton and his helpers do is to give a good spring cleaning to the church. All walls are cleaned, electric bulbs checked and all maintenance carried out. The walls are then covered with red damask and chandeliers are hung in the arches alongside the aisle. A canopy is placed over the main altar. Before the Novena (nine days of religious preparations) starts, the statue is taken out of its niche and placed on a sculptured, box-shaped plinth. It is decorated with a set of six large candlesticks. While the Novena is going on, the altars and other religious items inside the church are decorated with precious and artistic objects.