Christmas Holidays in Malta
Christmas is a fantastic time to discover the historical island of Malta. Its customs, food and religious ceremonies make Malta a stand out winter destination
and the personification of a traditional Christmas holiday abroad.
As a primarily Catholic country, the Maltese islands are no stranger to religious holidays. Feasts are a regular occurrence throughout the year and are always celebrated in true spectacular Maltese style, with plenty of big bangs (fireworks). While every event tries to out-do the last, nothing can beat Christmas time in Malta. A religious holiday only closely matched by a Maltese Easter
While Malta has plenty of its own traditions, you'll find that Christmas has a particularly British influence. Evidence of the British occupation can be found all over the island, of which lasted from 1800 to 1964. From phone boxes, to police stations, traffic lights to driving on the left there are numerous customs that are still apparent today. Second to the language, food is one such factor which makes Malta a home-from-home for many tourists from the United Kingdom.
Traditional Maltese Christmas Food
Christmas dinner is a big occasion for Maltese families, as it is for most households around the world who celebrate the birth of Christ. Located near Italy, Malta puts big significance on the eating and preparing of food, especially during religious proceedings. Family is an important element in everyday life for any Catholic, so feasts play a necessary part of any religious celebration. Many Maltese live with their family or at least in close proximity given that the island is so small. This means holidays like Christmas are big and extravagant, having to cater for all the generations that are in attendance.
A traditional Maltese Christmas meal is much like one you'll find in Britain. Slight variations may pop up from town to town, but overall it consists of roasted poultry (usually turkey) with roast potatoes and all the trimmings one would expect at Christmas time.
Most of the shops in Malta stock and import plenty of British favourites. This includes Brussels sprouts, mince pies, Christmas pudding and cake, even birds custard is available to buy.
Some households may choose a more traditional route, opting for hasi (rooster). Before the British came to Malta, housewives would select the fattest, plumpest rooster to cook up for Christmas lunch. The bird was put into a casserole dish along with potatoes and vegetables then taken to the local bakery to be cooked in their massive hot stone ovens.
Other traditional treats you may spot are 'Qaghqa tal-Ghasel'
(treacle rings) and 'Imbuljuta tal-Qastan'
(a hot chestnut and cocoa soup). Given their propinquity to Italy, Panettone
(a dry Italian sweet bread loaf or sponge cake with candied or dry fruit) is also a very popular treat around this time of year in Malta.
Original recipe can be found on BBC Good Food.
Where to buy Christmas Supplies in Malta
If you have decided to make your Christmas holiday in Malta a self catering one this year, you'll find heaps of shops that stock family favourites and British brands in store.
Whatever area of Malta you decide to stay in, there will be a store which provides everything you will ever need for a traditional Christmas in Malta. Keep an eye out for local fruit ‘n' veg vans too. They frequent the area on a regular basis, offering lots of local produce at great prices.
Guide to Sliema
Guide to St Julian's
Guide to Valletta
Guide to Mellieha
Guide to St Paul's Bay
Alternatively, there are numerous supermarkets and mini markets which you can either shop in or order food online for home delivery such as maltasupermarket.com
. For supermarkets in your vicinity, check our news section for self catering guides
on Sliema, St Julian's, Valletta, Mellieha and St Paul's Bay.
If you don't fancy cooking or washing up this Christmas, there is a wide choice of establishments that offer Christmas dinner and lunch sittings.
If this is an option you are considering, it is wise to book way in advance as tables fill up fast.
For some unique Christmas decorations, Patches Market held on 2nd December in Valletta has a horde of hand crafted trinkets. Whether there to buy, get into the Christmas spirit or for a little inspiration, it's worth checking out.
During the build up to Christmas, many shops and shopping malls such as The Point and The Bay Street Complex will be open late too, allowing you to buy gifts and other supplies you couldn't fit on the plane.
Maltese Christmas Traditions
If you have ever been to Malta before, you would have surely noticed the number of religious monuments. Ranging from the grand and opulent to the small statues embedded in walls and biblical scenes placed in gardens. Each town has their own way of celebrating religious holidays. From Sliema to Valletta to St Julian's, they all have their own patron saint to celebrate with their own individual festa.
Christmas is no different, albeit on a much larger scale. A mix of joint celebrations together with each town's original spin makes this an event to relish. While customs differ from place to place, you'll find a few similar practices.
One item that you are sure to find wherever you go this Christmas is a presepji. This is essentially a crib, often kitsch in style it, it can vary from basic and static to mechanically operated and flamboyant. Some residents even take this display one step further and turn their entire garages into a nativity scene for all to see. Old sketches uncovered in the catacombs of St Agatha in Rabat, depict evidence of this practice dating back to the 5th or 6th century. Villages used to compete to build the most impressive nativity display of which some towns that still do.
Another decorative tradition, which is sadly rarely seen nowadays, is to sow wheat, grain and canary seed onto cotton buds. These buds would then be left to grow a few weeks before Christmas. Once the seedlings started to sprout the long white roots, they would be used to decorate presepji, statues and nativity scenes.
Midnight Mass is held on Christmas Eve, at all the local parishes and cathedrals. Events like this see churches turn back the clock, transforming from everyday to wonderful re-enactments of days gone by. Candle lit carol services, light displays and tours of the churches are also very popular in the build up to Christmas Day.
During the Christmas Eve sermon you'll witness another ritual called Il-Priedka Tat-Tifel (Preaching of the Child). Dating back to 1883 and first performed by George Sapiano at the church of Luqa, this is where an alter boy or girl takes centre stage and preaches to the congregation in place of the parishes usual priest. The chosen child (usually aged between 7 and 10 years old) will practice this speech at least 4 to 5 weeks before they must recite it on Christmas Eve and is seen as a great honour within their community.
Come Christmas Day, many parishes organise a procession for baby Jesus. Locals and children will dress as biblical figures, take to the streets and march in honour of his birth. These processions are usually accompanied by the local band. A popular Maltese Christmas carol you may hear is Nini la Tibkix Izjed, which means sleep and cry no more.
What's the Weather Like in Malta at Christmas
Located along the Mediterranean, the weather in Malta at Christmas time is much milder than that of Northern Europe. That said, there can still be a chill especially at night. It is recommended that people bring plenty of layers, as while it might seem warm in sunny parts as soon as shade or night time hits you'll notice a change in temperature.
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From Everyone at Unique Holiday Malta.
Il-Milied it-Tajjeb (Merry Christmas)