Blood on our streets

The depiction of Christ in a state of suffering, with bloodied and torn garments, crowned with thorns, can have a profound impact on young minds.

It’s that time of the year when Malta’s streets transform into a stage for doleful Good Friday processions that wind through our towns. These events are steeped in tradition, with elaborate statues and live re-enactments depicting scenes from the passion of Christ, leading up to his crucifixion. It’s a time of reflection and reverence, deeply rooted in the Maltese cultural heritage.

However, among the sombre beauty and the community gathering, a question arises that may not have crossed our minds: How do these vivid portrayals of suffering and blood affect our youngest spectators? It’s a topic that might make us pause and reconsider what we take for granted as a harmless tradition.

In exploring this question, we turn to insights from chartered occupational psychologist and Member of Parliament, Katya De Giovanni, whose expertise offers a unique perspective on the impact of such exposure on children.

Drawing from extensive research on the effects of media on children, De Giovanni highlighted the tendency of children to imitate behaviours they are exposed to. She referenced the bans of certain Manga cartoons and toys resembling pistols and guns in the eighties as measures taken to shield children from potentially harmful influences.

De Giovanni pointed out a significant oversight in national reflection, noting that, “however, we have never really reflected as a nation on the effect that the Holy Week celebrations have on our children.” She emphasised the importance of understanding the dual nature of these celebrations, which focus on both the suffering of Christ and his resurrection. The depiction of Christ in a state of suffering, with bloodied and torn garments, crowned with thorns, can have a profound impact on young minds.

Explaining the physiological responses that such imagery can trigger, De Giovanni stated, “In young children, the effect of blood may cause a vasovagal response, which is a benign type of fainting occurring in response to a trigger, such as pain or even emotional stress.” She expressed concern over the potential stress caused by static statues, live processions, plays, and films that graphically portray the events of Holy Week: “Children see these statues as being larger than life. Let us all remember that things looked very different when we were little and shorter.”

The psychologist underscored the possible confusion and distress among children when comparing their minor injuries to the extensive suffering depicted in Holy Week narratives. She suggests that children often relate their own small injuries, like scraping a knee, to the much larger wounds they see depicted on Christ during Holy Week. This comparison might make them wonder and worry about the intensity of such suffering.

A sensitive approach

De Giovanni recommended adopting a sensitive approach to addressing children’s reactions to these depictions. “In such situations, it is important to ask about our children’s feelings and to let them open up and to process what is going on,” she advised. Encouraging children to draw pictures and engage in discussions can serve as effective means of helping them express and process their thoughts.

Moreover, she suggested demystifying the representations seen in processions: “It is also good for us to tell them that live processions are make-believe and that people are not really suffering at that point in time.” Demonstrating the use of ketchup and paint as substitutes for blood can help children understand the re-enactment aspect of these events, grounding their perceptions in reality.

De Giovanni’s reflections invite a broader consideration of how traditional cultural practices are perceived and experienced by the youngest members of society, emphasising the need for guidance and reassurance in their encounters with complex and potentially distressing themes.

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