8 Ways Maltese People Prepare for Christmas

By November 30, 2017Intercontinental Malta
maltese christmas crib

Christmas is an important celebration the Christian world over, but especially so in Malta, where people take Christmas traditions very seriously indeed. So, Christmas in Malta is a special occasion, but how do Maltese people prepare in the run up to this all important festive season?

Putting up the decorative lights

 Aside from a slight drop in temperature, the biggest difference you’ll notice at Christmas time in Malta is that there are decorative lights absolutely everywhere. Streets are decorated with beautiful, twinkling lights vaunting over traffic, and houses are similarly decked out in electric Christmas creations.

Maltese people tend to favour the louder type of blinking Christmas light, which means that the Christmas atmosphere is turned up to ten starting around mid-November. If you want to really get in the Christmassy mood, try strolling around the capital Valetta and admiring the colourful Christmas decorations.

 christmas lights valletta

Growing your Vetches

Another, slightly more unique Maltese Christmas tradition is the use of purposely grown plants as table and floor decorations. In Malta, the seeds of Vetches, or Gulbiena, are purposely grown in the dark, so that their eventual shape resembles a mass of long, snowy white tendrils.

Gulbiena are usually planted around the first week of December, so that they are ready for Christmas day.

 

Displaying the household’s Baby Jesus

Although this religious convention is somewhat dying out amongst the younger generation, Maltese households traditionally display a figure of Baby Jesus at Christmas. Sometimes these figurines are valuable family heirlooms that are carefully dusted off and placed in realistic mangers, surrounded by wood chips and straw.

 Baby Jesus

Building a nativity scene

A related and more widespread Christmas preparation is the building of a nativity scene in the run up to Christmas. The tradition of displaying a Presepju dates back hundreds of years and is a mainstay of Maltese Christmas tradition.

Every proud household will have its own Presepju, but there are also larger, public displays found across the islands. On the small end of the scale, these might be simple, shoebox sized cribs made from cardboard and plastic figurines. On the larger end of the scale, you’ll find village sized displays complete with actors playing the parts of shepherds and craftsmen.

In Gozo you can visit Bethlehem f’Ghajnsielem, a massive month long enactment of the nativity scene, at which you can even don period costume yourself and try your hand at 1st Century AD farming techniques.

  Presepio

Baking mince pies

For British readers, this Christmas tradition will be a familiar one. Owing to Malta’s British influences, the making and eating of mince pies is a widespread phenomenon in the run up to Christmas. In Malta, these little sweet treats are simply known by their English name, “mince pies”.

For those unfamiliar with this British tradition, mince pies are not filled with meat, as the name suggests, but instead a delicious mixture of sticky dried fruit and spices.

  mince pies

Cooking other Christmas treats

Christmas dinner in Malta also largely resembles the Turkey and vegetable staple of British Christmas cuisine. However, in Malta this banquet is usually extended to epic proportions and is served complete with appetisers of pasta and soup.

There are also more uniquely Maltese treats to prepare at Christmas time. Qaghaq tal-ghasel is probably the most famous Maltese Christmas food; it is essentially a tasty pastry ring filled with treacle. Another Maltese favourite is the chestnut pie, adored by children and known as pasitzzot tal-qastan.

 Getting ready with dress rehearsals

One of the big events of Christmas time is the procession that precedes Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. This procession often consists in part of local children, dressed as shepherds, the Holy Family, and the Three Wise Men. This means that plenty of dress rehearsals take place at local schools in the run up to Christmas.

Community is a big theme at Christmas in Malta, and so schools prepare for Christmas with plenty of Christmassy events that bring together the community. As a school kid in Malta in December, you’d expect to participate in lots of carol services, Christmas musicals, and crib making competitions.

Christmas Rehearsal

Lots of Christmas shopping

Christmas is less commercially orientated in Malta than it is elsewhere in the world, where Santa Claus take precedent over the religious aspects of Christmas. Nevertheless, Christmas is still a religious feast, and feasting requires buying lots of food, and probably not a few last minute gifts.

For Christmas shopping, last minute or otherwise, you’re probably best of heading to Valetta, where you can also experience the sparkling lights of the capital. There is also a great Christmas shop in Attard city that you should visit.

Christmas is an important celebration the Christian world over, but especially so in Malta, where people take Christmas traditions very seriously indeed. So, Christmas in Malta is a special occasion, but how do Maltese people prepare in the run up to this all important festive season?

Presents