Since a white Christmas is unlikely to be on the cards as it doesn’t exactly snow in Malta like in Northern countries, there’s still plenty to get you in the holiday mood while you’re here. In fact, as the days get a bit colder and we start wearing our jackets indoors, us islanders start preparing for the festive season in our own unique way.

Here are the past and present Maltese Christmas traditions for how we celebrate the most wonderful time of the year.

See all the Bright Street Lights

‘Christmas in the City’ has become a yearly event on Malta’s cultural calendar, especially for the scores of people who pass through Valletta daily. The lights usually go on in a press conference around a month before Christmas, marking the start of the festive season. A long-standing tradition on the island. The prominent Republic Street and Merchants Street tend to be the most ornate and feature the iconic Christmas tree – made entirely of Mdina glass baubles.

This begins a roll-on effect on the rest of the Archipelago as it comes to life with blinking lights hanging about six metres above all streets. The result is a warm, bright atmosphere as far as the eye can see.

Nativity Cribs

 

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One of the oldest Maltese Christmas traditions, dated back to 1607, is the nativity crib (Presepju), found in homes and around the island. Clay statues (pasturi) represent The Holy Family, three priests, shepherds, sheep and villagers. For five weeks up to Christmas, we grow a white, stringy plant called Ġulbiena (vetches) by watering and hiding seeds in the dark. This can replicate hay in cribs or decorate altars and windowsills.

The “Wirja ta’ Presepji” is a display of nativity cribs of all sizes for guests to enjoy. Now it’s even become a live attraction with real people and animals walking about. The most famous being in Għajnsielem, Gozo, with around 100 actors participating every year.

Midnight Mass and the Child’s Sermon

 

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This Catholic tradition occurs every year during the night of December 24th. This celebration is special because the sermon isn’t given by the priest. Instead, a child between the ages of 7 and 10 tells the Nativity story from the altar.

The first boy to deliver the ‘Sermon of the Child’ (Priedka tat-Tifel) was George Sapiano from Luqa in 1883. Today, the sermon is still a proud moment for the chosen child and their family. After the mass, it’s custom for families to indulge in snacks and mulled wine before exchanging greetings and heading home.

Traditional, Festive Food

 

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Food is a vital part of any Maltese celebration. The whole extended family will typically join for Christmas Day Lunch, which may last half the day. Most of the customary food and drink, particularly the desserts, are of British influence from when Malta was a colony.

There are Mince pies, filled with mincemeat – which surprisingly is not meat at all, but a mix of dried fruit and spices. The Christmas cake is also a festive dried fruit mix with brandy and orange. We have Christmas log, and the “Imbuljuta tal-Qastan” – a Maltese hot chocolate and chestnut drink served throughout the holidays. Meanwhile, from our Italian neighbours, we’ve now gladly adopted the Panettone.

Maltese House Decorations

 

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Maltese houses at Christmas time tend to be a hive of decorations from twinkling lights that may well be seen from space, to tinsel and Father Christmas. Cribs and an oversized baby Jesus pop up in the homes of the older generation. Residents drape their balconies with twinkling rope lights, and you’re bound to see a mini Father Christmas hanging off one.

Restaurants, stores and hotels will join in the Christmas spirit with their own decor and lighting, plus some special Christmas items or offers. High-rise buildings, particularly in the Sliema and St. Julian’s area now also blanket their facades with rope lights, making them look magical.

Christmas for Kids

After Midnight Mass, several towns organise processions where children carry a baby Jesus statue while singing Maltese Carols. “Ninni La Tibkix Izjed” (Sleep and cry no more) is one of the more famous ones. This sweet tradition dates back to 1921, the first procession in the village of Hamrun, set up by Saint George Preca.

In schools, students and teachers participate in Christmas pantomimes, carol singing, plays, and crib competitions – and parents are even invited to watch. Each class also typically has a Christmas party, where they put up decorations and bring food to share.

Malta’s Unique Christmas Spirit

Malta also shares many international Christmas customs like carols, trees, shopping and gifts. However, there are still some Maltese Christmas traditions, passed down from generations, that make the holidays here extra special. We encourage you to soak up the magical atmosphere at this time of year and have yourself a merry Christmas.

Fabien Vella

Author Fabien Vella

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