In former days, on New Year’s Day (l-Istrina), the Maltese used to give money gifts to the young members of the family. The well-to-do families also used to give money gifts to their domestic servants as well as to other people who rendered them a service throughout the year.
The Maltese used to give great importance to New Year’s Day lunch. In the past, many Maltese preferred to have fish for this meal on New Year’s Day. Fish was considered, by the Maltese, to be an augury of good luck. Whilst trying to include fish, they also tried to exclude hotch-potch soup from this lunch as they believed that those persons who ate this type of soup would grow ham bones for the rest of the year. Another belief which concerns this day’s lunch is a warning for those who eat cabbages on this special day. According to this belief, these people would groan for a whole year.
Family members were expected to be present at lunch-time on this particular day. It was held that those who absented themselves would die by the end of the same year.
The importance of fish on the first day of the year died out. Due to British influence, fish lost its place of honour. It was taken over by the turkey. New Year Day’s lunch became very similar to that of Christmas Day. It included soup and ‘timpana’ (a locally made pasta dish). Turkey was served with potatoes and vegetables. White Maltese wine dominated the New Year Day’s lunch and for sweets there were either Christmas pudding and mince pies or Maltese sufflè. Nuts also accompanied the day’s sweets.
Usually there was a guest or two invited for this special lunch. There was a custom among Maltese families, to invite a brother’s or a sisters’ family for lunch for Christmas day and this brother or sister and their partner would reciprocate this gesture by inviting the host family for New Year’s Day. Unmarried siblings were also invited for this lunch who would usually turn up accompanied by a widowed mother or father.
When the guests arrived, they used to give money gifts to the children of the host family, who placed these gifts inside a wooden box. The children were expected to wait till lunch was over and guests to leave, to open their wooden boxes and count the money they would have received.