Every December, Americans brace themselves for one of the least pleasant elements of the holidays: travel. Cars get stuck in traffic jams, public transport goes on the blink, flights are mysteriously delayed (and sometimes even canceled altogether). But we do it anyway: In December 2018, roughly one in four Americans, or some 73 million people, braved the hordes and got onto a plane.
In Europe, it’s much less common to fly during the holidays. Last year, in countries such as Slovenia or Slovakia, only one in 10 people flew in December. Even wealthier nations such as Germany and the UK fly far less over the holiday months than across the pond. On average, across the EU, about one in eight people will board a plane in December.
But there’s one country in particular where that isn’t the case. The tiny nation of Malta, population 493,559, last year saw 211,355 passenger “enplanements” in the month of December.
Malta is a Roman Catholic nation, where almost everyone celebrates Christmas. It has a raft of unique nativity traditions, including allowing a child of about 10 to take the Christmas Eve midnight mass service, instead of the priest.
But in order to experience them, many Maltese people have no option but to pack their bags and fly home—as depicted in the Maltese airport’s Love Actually-inspired 2018 holiday advertisement. That’s because almost as many Maltese live outside the country as within it, with expat communities in the US, the UK, and other EU countries such as Belgium and Luxembourg. Moreover, short of taking a boat or swimming, there’s no other way to get there.
It isn’t just Maltese people on these flights, though. Located south of Italy, the island nation enjoys balmy temperatures year-round. Over the holiday period, while it’s not quite warm enough for swimming and sunbathing, it’s the closest winter sun option for many EU residents—and a popular choice for those actually opting out of being at home for the holidays.