The best Maltese traditions to make the festive season extra special

The best Maltese traditions to make the festive season extra special

Malta is dotted with customs, celebrations, and nuances despite its microscopic size. Like every other country, Malta celebrates throughout this festive season in accordance with its distinct traditions and practices. In fact, Christmas is a widely celebrated holiday in Malta due to both its social and religious significance. While Christmas, or “Il-Milied” as it is known in Malta, is celebrated on 25 December, preparations start weeks before the customary date. OhMyMalta will be guiding you on how to truly celebrate Christmas like the Maltese.

The Navity Crib (Il-Presepju)

Christmas cribs (‘Il-presespju) were initially imported to Malta from Italy by wealthy noblemen. The first real Maltese crib is said to have been made in in 1617 and installed at the Domenican Friars Church in Rabat. A crib from 1670 is located at Mdina’s St. Peter’s Monastery. This is cared for by the Benedictine sisters of the monastery. As cribs gained popularity, locals began to replace buildings and craftsmen, giving them a more “Maltese” appearance.

The earliest imported Italian statuettes (pasturi in Maltese) were so expensive that most people couldn’t even afford them. People then started making their own “pasturi” out of rough clay and plaster.

Interestingly, every family has a unique crib that reflects their individual tastes. A Christmas crib often includes statuettes of the newborn Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Three Wise Men, angels, a donkey, a cow, and every other person who was there when Christ was born. The sculptures, which occasionally include precious relics, are taken out of storage, thoroughly cleaned, and then placed in a visible location inside the house.

Il-Presepju are commonly built out of paper and wood or with earthy stones called “gagazza” taken from the Maltese countryside. About 200 cribs of all different sizes and forms are always on exhibit throughout the islands throughout the Christmas season.

Traditional Christmas Food

Food plays a big part in Maltese Christmas traditions. What might others think is a small gathering between family members, Maltese use Christmas as another excuse to throw a party in the kitchen. While it is not uncommon for families to go out for lunch or dinner for Christmas, the majority of the locals organise a get together, with over 20 people around the dinner table and enough food to feed a whole family for a week.

Traditional foods include the Christmas cake and the well-known Christmas log. During their colony of the Maltese Islands from 1814 until 1964, the British brought the latter to Malta. The Christmas log is basically a very Christmassy combination made up of sultanas, raisins, currants, dates, cherries, brandy, and.

Although the ‘Buche de Nöel’, or Christmas log, was invented in France, it has become a tradition in many countries. The Maltese Christmas log is often made for Christmas and eaten all day. Ingredients include chunks of chocolate, cherries, almonds, cookies, and a little dash of alcohol for flavour. The Maltese Christmas log is relatively similar to the chocolate salami in Portugal and Italy.

Other popular Christmas treats in Malta are the treacle rings (Qagħqa tal-Għasel), which are wonderful pastry rings filled with a treacle filling and ‘Imbuljuta tal-Qastan’, a traditional Maltese beverage, created with hot chestnut and chocolate.

Midnight Mass and ‘il-Priedka tat-Tifel’

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It is deemed as traditional in Malta to go to Midnight Mass after the Christmas Eve dinner with the family. The Sermon of the Child (Il-Priedka tat-Tifel), which has been a Christmas tradition in Malta since 1883, is the oldest and most famous tradition. Typically, a young kid, usually between the ages of 7 and 10, who is standing at the main altar, gives the sermon instead of the priest. Instead, the young child recounts the story of the Nativity.

Four young children circle the community singing Christmas songs while holding lanterns and a figure of the newborn Jesus in their arms. George Sapiano delivered the first recorded Christmas Eve sermon by an altar boy at Luqa’s parish church in 1883. The little pageant recounting the tale of the Nativity is regularly performed by local churches, complete with shepherd costumes for the children, Joseph and Mary cradling a baby doll (representing Jesus), and other decorations. During this hour, “Ninni la tibkix iż jed,” a well-known Maltese carol, is sung across the whole island. Its literal translation is “sleep and weep no more,” and it was written by the Luqa-born Jesuit priest Fr. Andrew Schembri (1774–1862) for Maltese immigrants in Tunis.

The Vetches (Ġulbiena)

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In November and December, Malta and Gozo produce vetches (ġulbiena), a kind of wheat, grain, or even canary seeds, for decoration. You may see this white, hairy bush in all kinds of places—on altars, beside cradles, and around the statue of baby Jesus. Before Christmas, the seeds are sown on cotton wool and grown for around five weeks in the dark. The seeds are maintained in the corners of the home until white, stringy stems emerge. They are given water every day, and on Christmas Eve, they are prepared for adulation. As a part of their Christmas tradition, the locals wrap their cribs with rubbery, noodle-like plants.

The custom has reportedly been practised for generations, and when other Christmas decorations were in short supply, local farmers planted ġulbiena to compensate the scarcity. The origins of this particular tradition are unknown, although they may have something to do with a Greek tradition that makes reference to The Garden of Adonis

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