The Christmas festivities are a yearly-milestone celebrated by countless Roman Catholics around the world. This religious holiday is not only a time for spiritual reflection, but also a time to enjoy one’s family and friends. In an increasingly materialistic world which tends to focus priorities more on mass marketed displays rather than human warmth and emotions, certain traditional customs are becoming more important in order for us to continue to value the cultural heritage prevalent during such holidays as Christmas-time.
Each country has its own particular ways of celebrating Christmas, and Malta is no exception. Christmas is a very important time for the people of Malta and Gozo, and, apart from wishing each other ‘Il-Milied it-Tajjeb’ (Happy Christmas), most Maltese tend to follow a number of particular traditions which are at the core of our own culture.
- Midnight Mass – The sermon service at Midnight on Christmas Eve is a typical staple of the Maltese way of celebrating this feast. Perhaps the climax of the mass is the so-called ‘Sermon of the Child’ (il-Priedka tat-Tifel), where a boy or girl usually aged between 7 and 10 years old is chosen to deliver a special prayer or message she or he would have practiced beforehand. Needless to be said, the child’s parents and family would be proudly awaiting their child’s speech. Following Midnight Mass, it is usual for there to be a children’s procession in every town and village, whereby the children carry and follow a statue of baby Jesus through the village streets carrying lamps and singing Christmas carols. This tradition first began in the 1920s and it was introduced by the religious organisation known as the MUSEUM.
- Nativity Cribs – These are to be found anywhere and everywhere in Malta. From parish churches, to private homes and even in town squares and roundabouts, be they large or small, simple or elaborate, nativity cribs or ‘Presepji’, decorated with figurines called ‘pasturi’ swarm over the islands. Figurines usually represent baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the three Wise Men, angels, shepherds, and even shed animals present at Christ’s birth. This Maltese tradition is thought to date back to the 17th century. Figurines can be made out of porcelain, ceramic, plaster, clay, or plastic. There are also many afficionados who love to create their own nativity cribs and display them in exhibitions and fairs as a work of art. It is also traditional to sow vetches or ‘ġulbiena’ as Christmas decorations. These are wheat, grains, or even canary seeds which are placed on cotton buds five weeks before Christmas and left in the dark to produce white shoots. They are then usually placed around nativity cribs.
- Music – Music plays a very important part in Christmas activities in Malta. During December, most towns and villages put up large speakers around their main squares and streets in order to play Christmas carols and seasonal music to create a magical Christmas atmosphere. Schools in Malta all hold Christmas concerts in which most children take part. Such school concerts usually consist of carols, mimes, poetry recitals and nativity plays. Activities are also organised where groups of children or adults are induced to visit Old People’s Homes, hospitals, etc in order to bring Christmas cheer through the singing of carols. Charity, voluntary and religious organisations also organise such carol singing in town squares and to raise funds for the needy. Christmas Pantomimes are also an important part of the Season.
- The Food! – The Maltese are very particular as to their seasonal cuisine during this time of the year. It is traditional for Christmas lunch to be a big family affair, and traditional food served during this time includes turkey, pork casserole with fresh potatoes and vegetables, as well as many local sweets like the treacle ring (‘qagħqa tal-għasel’), a hot chestnut and cocoa soup (‘imbuljuta tal-qastan’), mince pies, Christmas Cakes and Christmas puddings.