Christmas is celebrated with great enthusiasm each year in the island-nation of Malta, both for its religious importance and its more secular, “social” significance.
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As Malta is predominantly Roman Catholic, many of its Christmas traditions are similar to those in other Catholic countries, but Malta is also a very unique place that cannot help but leave its own unique mark on the way Christmas is kept.
Churches are heavily involved in the annual Christmas events in Malta. First, many people go to a midnight mass to remember the true meaning of Christmas and to welcome the morning with others the very moment it arrives. Churches also hold processions where statues of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are carried through the streets, and they organise Christmas plays and carolling groups.
In homes, churches, and public streets alike, you will see “presepju” (nativity scenes) that include cribs and various figures, such as shepherds, angels, Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and Jesus. Nowadays, you will even see mechanical presepju with “moving parts.” If you notice Jesus is missing from his crib, do not be alarmed, for he is not put into it until Christmas night, and the Three Wise Men do not arrive until Epiphany, which is the “12th Day of Christmas” on January 6th.
Another Maltese tradition is “the preaching of the child,” which is a sermon given by a boy or girl of around seven to 10 years of age during the midnight mass. It will be a simple retelling of the Christmas story in the child’s own words.
There are also concerts at local schools, and groups will visit hospitals, retirement homes, and homes of the disabled to sing carols, hold special concerts and parties, and spread the festive cheer. A Community Chest Fund is also set up in Valletta’s Freedom Square each year to collect donations for local orphanages and other charitable causes.
Homes will be decorated with lights, candles, wreaths, Christmas trees, nativity cribs, and large figures of baby Jesus, which are often placed in street-facing windows for all to see. Wheat and other grains are also traditionally sown in small pans around a month before Christmas. They are kept in a shady corner of the house until sprouts appear, which are put in the nativity crib as a form of decoration.
As for Father Christmas, he does not necessarily come down the chimney and try to avoid being seen. Instead, he knocks on doors and hands out presents in person to kids late at night on December 25th.
Nowadays, Malta’s Christmas cuisine includes many British-derived dishes like mincemeat pie, “figgy pudding,” Christmas cake, and roast turkey. It also has taken in Italian elements like panetone. However, more strictly Maltese culinary traditions common at Christmas time include: casseroles containing roast rooster, potatoes, and vegetables, piping hot chestnuts, cocoa soup, and “treacle rings,” which are pastries made with treacle (molasses), fruits, and various spices.
Those visiting Malta for Christmas should consider attending any of the following events:
- The special Christmas mass at Saint John’s Cathedral in Valletta. The Baroque architecture is very impressive, the interior is decked out with deep reds, and the altar will be beautified by flowers. There will be a message and the Christmas carols sung, and the whole service will be done by candle light.
- View the 100-plus nativity cribs put on display every year by the Friends of the Crib, a society dedicated to keeping this tradition alive and well. There is always an amazing variety or cribs, and they are open to public viewing for weeks on end.
- See the Christmas pantomime at Manoel Theatre. It combines art, tradition, and “slapstick” style humour in unique ways that people of every age will enjoy. Entertainment is also often provided at hotels and restaurants this time of year all over the islands of Malta and Gozo.
Malta is a small nation with many holidays all year round, but it is bustling and festive even more than usual during the Christmas season.