It’s a known (yet rarely acknowledged) fact that most Maltese grandmothers hold their grandchildren in higher regard than their own offspring. Grandkids love receiving some good TLC from their elders – be it through exaggerated portions of food, affection expressed through savage cheek pulling or through the loud expressions of mind-numbing concerns about preserving our modesty – but some behaviours may confuse those who are still familiarising themselves with Maltese culture.
We’ve compiled a list of habits to help you sift through the different strata of Maltese society. Don't be scared of Maltese grandmothers, they might pierce your eardrum or act menacing, but their heart is always in the right place.
A mini ceremony involving snippets of torn newspaper, small branches and an assortment of leaves set aflame in a dish, the fumes emerging from it were believed to cure any malady, condition or curse. Accompanied by chants and prayers, the person conducting the ceremony would motion the fumes unto the patient’s face for them to inhale the healing powers. To the modern reader, this may sound like a load of hogwash but whatever you do, never let a grandmother hear you say that this is superstition and not religion.
2. Neighbourhood watch
Granted this may be interpreted as an invasion of privacy, especially when one is attempting a walk of shame home, yet there is some comfort to be drawn from this despite the knowledge that you’d be the talk of the town the next morning. Furthermore, very few grandmothers enjoy a healthy relationship with technology, and while we source our food for gossip through Facebook, grandmothers stick to more traditional methods of espionage. To each their own.
3. Kissing bread before breaking it
Saying prayers before any major meal is a silent yet heavily enforced rule across most Maltese households. Not only does this stem from the island’s strong religious roots but there is also some history behind this. Most of the older generations have either lived through WWII or in its aftermath, during which famine was not uncommon. Kissing bread before breaking remains a testament of hard times as well as a heartfelt appreciation for the food laid in front of them. Respect.
4. The hidden stash
The one thing that grandmothers are more protective of than their grandchildren is their stash of holy images. Usually pinned to the kitchen wall or folded into their book of prayers, these pictures are prayed over by anxious people in the hopes of a quick fix. Whether you’ve lost an object which you urgently need to locate (hey there St Anthony) or require protection against thunderstorms and lightning (how you doin’ St Barbara?)
Although some might perceive these behaviours as a nuance, these little habits deserve preserving as much as traditional food and crafts. They characterised our childhood and are the signs of an expression of love very few people are in touch with nowadays.
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