This year I knew no fewer than three newly wed couples who were jetting off to sunnier, or at least different, climes for the Christmas festivities, and while I can understand the desire to getaway and make the most of the annual leave, for me, Christmas begins at home.
There should be a Christmas tree, a fireside by which to get snug, a home-cooked Turkey and Ham dinner with Roast Potatoes, Stuffing and Gravy. There should be a board game or a quiz to fight over, an indulgence of cheese and chocolate, a few good movies to doze off in front of. But when it comes to New Year’s Eve…
Over the last few years, DH and I have formed a New Year’s tradition of jetting off to Malta to spend the evening with his family and in particular, his Grandmother who celebrates her birthday on New Year’s Eve. It’s a quiet affair with good food, good company and a gathering around the telly to watch the Maltese or Italian countdown before switching over to BBC to watch Jools Holland lead the UK countdown an hour later.
This might be a world away from the house parties, raves and Kazimier celebrations of New Year’s past but much of it has to do with a shift in focus. New Year’s Eve, if you spend it with the right people in the right place with a great atmosphere but no queue at the bar or the toilets, can be a fantastic evening, but in the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate New Year’s Day.
Waking up to a sunny blue sky, relatively clear-headed and, because you’re still on holiday, without any of the New Year’s Resolutions pressures, January 1st really can be a joy. For the past couple of years, DH and I have tried to make a real day of it, stretching our legs with a long walk and indulging in a delicious lunch, a few beers in the sun and generally, a few games of cards over which we can chat about the year past and the months ahead. There’s a gentleness and ease to welcoming the new year this way, it’s not so much diving into 2019 headfirst, more wading in at your own pace.
With DH’s blood ties to Malta, we make a visit to the little Mediterranean rock at least once a year but I must admit, there’s something very special about the place at Christmas and New Year. The summer’s dust and sand have given way to lush green fields, the heat has eased off enough that you can get out for a long walk in the middle of the day without risking heatstroke, and the Christmas lights – oh the Christmas lights. Cities and towns like Valletta, Hamrun and Marsaskala don’t hold back when they deck the halls – in fact, Maltese towns compete for the best in show at Christmas – which adds a festive warmth to the charming narrow streets and sandstone cities.
Whatever the season, Malta is a beautiful place to explore and it never fails to slow me down, clear my mind and send me home refreshed and reinvigorated. Partly that’s just the beauty of a good holiday but I do believe it’s partly unique to Malta. It’s such a small island that, with a hire car and a reliable driver (the Maltese roads are the opposite of relaxing!) you have the whole place at your fingertips – you can day trip anywhere on the island, catching sunrise on the eastern isle and sunset on the western shore with a full day of adventure in between.
I never understood the desire to buy a holiday home abroad and spend every summer in the same place, but having returned to Malta several times over the past five years, I get it. When you fall in love with a place, you can’t get enough of it. You get to know it well enough that it feels like a home from home, and on every visit now, DH and I have a few places we always have to return to – mostly for the food! The capital city, Valletta, for a pastizzi (hot ricotta cheese wrapped in crispy, flaky filo pastry) and a beer at the Upper Barrakka Gardens and a delicious bowl of pasta at Cafe Jubilee. To Rabat for another pastizzi from the Crystal Palace Bar (the BEST you’ll find on the island) and a wander around the beautiful walled city of Mdina where there must also be a cake at Fontanella’s. And if we can squeeze it in, a trip to the northwest of the island to take in a sunset at Golden Bay.
And as has become tradition, there were a few little adventures to discover new corners of the island. We discovered a new favourite eating spot – Pastaus on Old Theatre Street – a choice of fresh pasta and your pick of sauces, we also ventured up to Hastings Park in Valletta in time for sunset, exploring a whole new corner of the city and trying out my new camera.
On another, less sunny day, we headed to the Dingli Cliffs for a walk but the weather turned so taking shelter at St Paul’s Catacombs in Rabat we discovered the maze of underground bomb shelters which communities took to every night for four years during World War II. The following day, with the sun shining we explored Vittoriosa and the Inquisitor’s Palace where I discovered the darker side of Malta’s Catholic history.
As always though, some of my favourite moments from our New Year’s getaway in Malta were closer to home, a stone’s throw where we stay in St Thomas’ Bay – lunchtimes down by the bay, walks along the promenade when the waves roared and evening walks through Marsaskala. It’s idling along this now familiar coastline that brings me back to myself. The first and last rambles, where I soak up the Mediterranean sunshine and ease myself into holiday mode. Sitting on the rocks at St Thomas’ Bay I literally feel the weight lift off my shoulders. This New Year’s trip has put me in good stead for 2019 although I must admit I’m already looking forward to the next Malta trip!