On any given day, few places in the world are more visually stunning than the island of Malta. With colorful lights glowing throughout every trail, this is even truer at Christmastime.
Malta is part of a Mediterranean archipelago, along with the smaller islands of Gozo and Comino.
Here they speak the language of Maltese (along with some English). As Christmas approaches, you may hear “Il-Milied it-Tajjeb!” See for yourself how Christmas wishes are spoken in the world.
The weather in December is somewhat unpredictable here, as the temperature is roughly around a mild 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit, but tends to feel colder due to the high humidity.
It is colder at night, so if you are visiting for Christmas, it is best to pack layer-able clothing.
Although it is a small island of only about 122 square miles, it is the 7th most densely populated country in the world with about 1,560 people per square mile.
The majority of these people are Catholic, and Christmas is very meaningful for them.
Presepju, Pasturi, and Other Traditions
The attendance is high for Midnight Mass, as people come from all corners of the island to worship.
However, there is more to see at the churches than just people and priests. Along with Christmas lights, nativity cribs dot the buildings.
The idea was not fully embraced at first, but eventually, the first Maltese crib was produced – all the way back in 1617.
Highly decorated scenes surround the cribs and usually include figurines of shepherds, angels, and other Biblical representations (called ‘pasturi’).
Windmills are often added in as well, to represent the local life. Some are even mechanical!
At the end of November, “gulbiena” is planted on a shallow pan of cotton. This is usually done with wheat, grain, or canary seeds.
Long strands of grass-like shoots come from these seeds. Once they are grown out enough, the gulbiena contributes to the crib grottos.
On the main altar, baby Jesus is added when the clock strikes midnight for Christmas.
Malta also celebrates the holiday of Epiphany, and during that time, the three wise men are also included in the scene.
Those that tend to the nativity crib (which is usually built by the church-goers) are referred to as “Friends of the Crib”.
This group started in 1986 and nowadays there are about 500 members. They play an important role in keeping this tradition alive in modern Malta.
Friends of the Crib
Every year, the Friends of the Crib build a displayed collection of about 100 or so crib scenes for all to marvel at. Crib of all shapes and sizes are presented throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas.
When the 20th century came about, cribs were starting to be seen as outdated and somewhat boring.
A priest named George Preca did not want Christmas to decline in popularity, and began a charitable society called “M.U.S.E.U.M.”.
M.U.S.E.U.M. is an acronym for “Magister, utinam sequatur Evangelium universus mundus” which translates from Latin to “May the whole world, o Lord, follow the Gospel.” It is now also referred to as The Society of Christian Doctrine.
M.U.S.E.U.M.’s aim is to continue the teachings of Catholicism. Keeping with this goal, Preca added the tradition of having a life-sized baby Jesus lead a Christmas Eve procession in 1921.
In today’s Malta, presepju, pasturi, and Catholic, images such as statues of baby Jesus are seen all over the outside and inside of homes.
This is in addition to strands of Christmas lights, wreaths, and, of course, heavily decorated pine trees.
The Children and Priedka tat-Tifel
Christmas concerts are held in schools, with most of the children taking part in it. Carols, such as the popular ‘Ninni la Tibkix Izjed’ (meaning ‘Sleep and Cry No More’) are sung, along with plays and poetry recitals taking place.
In each class, a Christmas party is often held. Food may be brought from home and shared with everyone, and gifts are even sometimes exchanged.
Sometimes, gifts of money might be collected for charity from the class as well.
Another interesting custom of Malta is having a young child, around age 7-10, to lead a sermon at midnight mass.
This is referred to as “Priedka tat-Tifel” (which translates to “the preaching of the child”).
Several weeks beforehand, the child diligently practices what they will recite to the crowd of eager church-goers.
It is a lot of pressure for most children to take on this honor, but also very exciting.
The child will share the story of Christ’s birth, and usually include a heartfelt, personal twist of their own to the speech in order to captivate the audience.
George Sapiano was the first to do this in 1883 when he was a young altar boy.
Furthermore, there is typically a Christmas pageant performed by the church’s children. This takes place late at night, just before High Mass at midnight.
Santa Claus and Siggiewi
On Christmas night, the hearts of Maletese children are beating with anticipation as they open gifts from Santa Claus. If they are exceptionally lucky, he might even arrive early.
There is even a village in the south of Malta that is dedicated to Santa! It is called Siggiewi (also known as Città Ferdinand).
Every year in Siggiewi, the Residential Home for the Disabled (which is also a chapel) hosts a big Christmas party.
This party includes a live concert and lots of singing from the people that live in the home. They also put on plays.
The workers and nuns help with all of this, along with setting up the decorations and planning the special meal.
Relatives of the residents join the festivities. Everyone seems filled with love and joy.
The Spirit of Giving
As we all know, giving to others is a big part of Christmas. It so happens that Malta is the 27th wealthiest country in the world, and philanthropy peaks during this season.
In addition, teams of volunteers visit the homes of the elderly or sick to sing carols and spread cheer.
The Maltese town of Valletta has a section called Freedom Square. This is where volunteers from the Community Chest Fund set up their large tent.
This foundation is the largest charity of Malta and is supported by its president.
Here, cash donations are requested from the area and then distributed to several charitable organizations and orphanages. Without generous donations from the public, these groups could not thrive.
For shopping, one can find the perfect gift within the avenues of major cities on the island such as Valletta and Sliema, which are also where the most dazzling Christmas décor is found.
Stores are usually open late to accommodate shoppers during this season. You might also be able to find an artisan market selling Christmas-themed handicrafts.
Keep in mind, that traffic can be even more aggressive than usual during the holidays.
Christmas Dinner and Meal
The meals at Christmastime are filled with a wide range of food. It is typical for a family’s fattest rooster to be reserved for one of these meals, usually Christmas Lunch.
When the time comes, it will be roasted with potatoes and vegetables by a local bakery.
For dessert, it is customary to serve treacle rings (‘Qaghqa tal-Ghasel’), accompanied by a hot chestnut and cocoa soup (‘Imbuljuta tal-Qastan’) at the end of the night.
Almond macaroons and date-filled pastries might also be on the table.
The 164-year long British ruling of Malta (1800 – 1964) inspired much of the menu for Christmas dinner that they have today.
If you are a tourist, it is best to make your meal reservations far ahead of time, as some restaurants are closed, and others are quite busy.
Learn More With the Help of Video
Main Points About Christmas in Malta
- In Malta, Christmas is both a religious and a social celebration.
- Maltese are big on Christmas decorations especially on nativity cribs/scenes and the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the three wise, angel, shepherds, villagers and animal figurines.
- It is common to find Christmas parties and concerts at different locations in the country at Christmas time.
- The Christmas eve mass is very common in Malta. Many families and loved ones attend church service.
- Before the Christmas eve midnight church service, there is often a procession where the baby Jesus figurine is held.
- On Christmas day, is mostly a day for a family reunion. Loved ones gather over a lunch meal.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Christmas in Malta
You may not find snowmen and holly bushes here, but make no mistake, Christmas is in full-effect within Malta.
The customs here are deeply-rooted and can be appreciated by locals and tourists alike.
Be prepared to celebrate a season of joy as the glistening decorations, harmonious carols, and smiling faces (not to mention the Mediterranean sun) warm your heart.
Word Cloud for Christmas in Malta
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas in Malta. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.