Easter in Malta is big, bold and beautiful - are you ready and set for Holy Week?
Holy Week in Malta: what to expect
The big liturgical and ceremonial affair experienced during Easter in Malta is a quintessential part of local culture. In 2023, Holy Week officially spans from Sunday 2nd April to Sunday 9th April, however, the real activity begins on the Friday preceding Good Friday with a procession dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. Within the following ten days, expect hooded men dragging chains or carrying wooden crosses in penance, sombre music by brass bands, reenactments in period costume, pageants, exhibitions and a variety of devotional activities.
Processions for Our Lady of Sorrows, Good Friday and Easter Sunday
The processions are the biggest events taking place in Malta during Holy Week, mainly the ones on the occasions of Our Lady of Sorrows, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Held in Malta since the 16th century, they form an integral part of Maltese religious culture.
The procession for Our Lady of Sorrows, or id-Duluri, takes place in many towns and villages on the Friday preceding Good Friday, where the devout recite the rosary while following the statue through the streets. The procession on Good Friday is a huge nationwide affair taking place in several localities and includes hours of sombre music, period costumes and statues depicting the Passion of Christ being carried through the streets, where thousands of locals and tourists flock to witness the event. Easter Sunday is celebrated with a very lively procession culminating in running the statue of the Risen Christ (Kristu Rxoxt) back to the church among whistles and cheer.
Statues of the Stations of the Cross
The statues are an important symbol for the Maltese, with special care given to the sculpture and decoration of each. There are traditionally eight statues dedicated to the Passion of Christ in the processions held on Good Friday, although Qormi and Zejtun have 12. These would include the Scourging at the Pillar, Wearing the Crown of Thorns, Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus, Christ on the Cross and other stations of the cross. Six to ten men are required to carry each statue, some of which are several centuries old. The locals consider it a huge honour and a penance to carry the statues, and compete for the opportunity.
Live music by brass bands
A sombre occasion such as the Passion of Christ requires solemn music to set the mood of doom and gloom on Good Friday while a celebration such as the Resurrection of Christ requires jovial music. A musical march leads the processions, forming an essential part of the ceremonial activities. Tradtionally, the music is written especially for the occasion.
Other Holy Week activities
Plays, pageants and representations, exhibitions and concerts are abundant during Holy Week. Expect churches to be dressed in purple and black as a sign of gloom, changing to red on Easter Sunday to mark the celebration of the Risen Christ. Keep your eyes peeled for what's happening - asking the locals is a good way to find out what's happening in the village.
Save the date
Maundy Thursday - 6 April 2023
Traditionally, Maundy Thursday - the eve of Good Friday - is the evening of the 'Seven Visits', whereby the faithful make a visit to seven different churches to pay homage to the Altars of Repose. A popular place to do this is Rabat, which offers seven churches in a single locality. Also on this day, church bells are replaced with a rattle from the cuqlajta until the Saturday before the resurrection, as a sign of mourning.
On Maundy Thursday and also on Good Friday, nearby Siggiewi sees a never-ending line of penitents follow candles to the top of the hill where is the Laferla Cross, locally known as is-Salib tal-Gholja. The reciting the rosary, the candles and the little cave sanctuary all contribute to a very special atmosphere.
Good Friday - 7 April 2023
Good Friday is the biggest day of them all and also a public holiday, when all businesses are closed and the passage of traffic is diverted from town centres to make way for the grand procession. Some 17 towns and villages in Malta and Gozo commemorate the Passion of Christ starting with an afternoon service leading to a procession lasting several hours. Some of the best include Valletta, Zebbug, Qormi, Zejtun and Xaghra in Gozo.
A solemn band leads the way, men carry life-size statues depicting the Stations of the Cross, hooded men draw chains and men, women and children in period costumes, from angels and shepherds to Roman soldiers and Biblical characters, walk in between. The event draws thousands of onlookers and last statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is followed by devotees in prayer.
Easter Sunday - 9 April 2023
The sombre mood is finally lifted on Sunday, when revelry accompanies the ringing of church bells announcing the Resurrection of Christ. By mid-morning on Easter Sunday, yet another procession takes to the streets, this time with the Risen Christ and a band playing festive tunes. The climax is at the end, when the way is cleared and the statue-bearers make a run back to the church and excitement is high as the Risen Christ triumphs over sin and death. A cute local tradition is the blessing of the aforementioned delicious figolli for children. Head to Birgu or Qormi to see the action!
Figolli and other Easter sweets
One of the most joyous parts of the Easter celebrations is digging into the variety of Easter sweets available in Malta. From hot cross buns and kwarezimal as 'cheat sweets' during Lent to the delicious figolli and chocolate eggs, expect to put on a few pounds, because indulgence in these delicious bakes is certainly due!