Many people consider Christmas as the most heart-warming time of year that they excitedly look forward every year. It certainly is a special time bringing love and happiness to homes and provides great opportunity for family gatherings. However, it varies from country to country how people celebrate. In Malta the majority of the locals is Roman Catholics, thus Christmas retains a strong religious element for them. Visiting Malta during the festive season allows you to experience how Maltese turn Christmas a truly magical period with century-old traditions and customs, spectacular events and lots of fun.
Christmas preparation is part of the Maltese way of life. Many of the traditions that are still alive are family oriented. Every year turn out to be a fun activity for all the family. If you are lucky you’ll have a chance for not only learning them but also sharing the joy of some of these activities with the locals.
Festive decoration and Nativity Cribs
Maltese people love decorating their homes with typical twinkling lights. Start dominating house facades from as early as the beginning of November. Decorations to be placed on tables or in the windows often include home grown vetches. That give a unique, warm appearance to all creations. As for Christmas tree, Maltese commonly use faux-plants which cannot be imagined without tinsels and colorful glass or ornament decoration. It might look a bit kitschy but it indeed makes homes a magical place for the festive period.
Creating Nativity sets is definitely one of the charming Maltese traditions. Considered to be as part of the Christmas decoration procedure. The cribs showing the moment of the birth of Christ are commonly found in public areas, in schools or in offices as well as in every house, too. Each family prepares its own crib with figurines of all the characters, reflecting their own, personal taste and creativity.
Midnight Mass and Children’s Procession
The highlight of festivities is reached on the 24th December when Midnight Mass is celebrated. Going to the church for the Midnight Mass usually starts after the family dinner at night. The celebration itself looks unique keeping the lovely tradition of The Sermon of the Child. Instead of the priest, a small boy or girl gives the sermon who tell the story of Nativity. The mass is customarily followed by a rather social event. The community gathers on the parvis exchanging greetings while the priest offering them traditional Maltese date cakes (mqaret) and coffee.
In most villages you can see a group of local children carrying lanterns, holding a statue of baby Jesus and singing Christmas Carols. Sometime they are even dressed in nativity scene costumes. This lovely tradition is the children’s processions and is held right after the Midnight Mass.
Once they are at home, families often end up with having an early Christmas breakfast that includes champagne or mulled wine. This is something of a cultural tradition rather than a religious one, though.
Christmas Day – it is all about meals
In Malta, this day is mainly about big family gatherings and about repasts, as well. Families are close and large here so there can even be over 20 people sitting by the dining table. Maltese people love food and they do take pride in their national specialities. They consider Christmas as just another excellent occasion for enjoying delicious treats. Five-course-meals are not rarely served and lunch can happen to go on during long hours.
Christmas meals in Malta consist mainly of turkey but also include the traditional rabbit stew, the legendary pastizzi followed by the rich Maltese Christmas pudding. It is assented with soft, juicy fruits, almonds, candied peel, spices and the warmth of brandy that will definitely brights up your Christmas lunch or dinner. However, the true highlights of the dining tables are the delicious home made desserts.
The small, fruit-based, originally British Minced pie and Panettone are two of the traditional symbols of the Maltese Christmas. The latter is indeed a sweet cake with the addition of raisins (classic version), candied or dried fruits and nuts. Alao packed with fruits and a hint of spice, Christmas fruit cake also makes an appearance in households over Christmas together with the Maltese Christmas Log that looks truly popular throughout Europe, yet in some different versions. Instead of sponge cake, the Maltese one is made with crushed biscuits and a variety of nuts, fruit and sometimes chocolate chips. Besides it being sooo delicious it is very simple to make. As for drinks, the heartwarming Imbuljuta – nutmeg- and cloves-flavoured roasted chestnuts soaked in hot chocolaty cognac cocktail – is traditionally served after the Midnight Mass to warm you up.
If you are in Malta at this period, do not miss to taste them! Merry Christmas to you all!