IELS – Maltese Christmas Traditions


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IELS - Maltese Christmas Traditions

IELS – Maltese Christmas Traditions


Christmas is just around the corner and it’s a very special time for the Maltese people. As in every country, Malta has its own customs and traditions for celebrating at this heart-warming time of year.

Midnight Mass and Children’s Procession

Going to Midnight Mass after the family dinner on Christmas Eve is an established custom in Malta. The Sermon of the Child (Il-Priedka tat-Tifel), dating back to 1883, is the oldest and one of the most important Maltese traditions at Christmas. The sermon is, unusually, not given by the priest but by a small boy or girl aged between 7 and 10, who tells the story of Nativity whilst standing at the main altar. In almost every town, after the Midnight Mass, children’s processions are organised. Typically, four boys sing Christmas Carols around the village whilst carrying lanterns and holding a statue of baby Jesus.

The Vetches (Ġulbiena)

Vetches (ġulbiena) are a species of wheat, grain or even canary seeds which are grown for decorative purposes in Malta and Gozo during November and December. This hairy, white shrub, can be found everywhere; on altars, around cribs, in displays of the Child Jesus. The seeds are placed on cottonwool and grown in the dark for about five weeks before Christmas. They are left in corners of the house until the seeds produce white and stringy shoots. They are watered every day and on Christmas Eve the ġulbiena are ready to admire.

The Nativity Crib (Il-Presepju) and Baby Jesus

One of the charming Maltese traditions is the Nativity Crib (Il-Presepju), a tradition which is said to have started in the first half of the seventeenth century. It is very common to find nativity sets in houses, schools, organizations and public areas. Each family has its own crib reflecting their personal taste. It consists of figurines, (pasturi), a baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the 3 Wise Men, angels, a donkey, a cow and all the characters present at the birth of Christ. The statues, sometimes very valuable antiques, are taken out of storage, given a good cleaning and placed in a central location in the house.
‘Il-Presepju’ are often built with rustic stones known as ‘gagazza’, which are collected from the Maltese countryside, or made of paper and wood. Every year, over the Christmas season, about 100 cribs of all shapes and sizes are displayed around the islands.
Displaying a figure of Baby Jesus lying in a bed of straw is also very typical in Maltese households at this time of year.

Christmas at school

Enjoyed by both the children and teachers, Maltese schools often hold Christmas recitals. Most of the children take part by singing Christmas Carols, performing in Christmas themed plays, mimes and reading poetry. Each class typically holds a Christmas party. Children bring food from home and share it with their classmates, gifts are exchanged and sometimes money is collected for charity.

Traditional Maltese Christmas food

Food is a big part of Christmas tradition in Malta. If you are currently taking English courses in Malta and spending the holiday season here, you might have noticed how important Christmas is. Maltese and foreigners alike are cheered up by the joy of Christmas music, Christmas decorations and festivities all over the islands. Maltese people love food and take pride in their national specialities, you might have already had the chance to try the famous rabbit, the legendary pastizzi or traditional sweets during festas.

Christmas is yet another occasion to celebrate in the kitchen. You will be able to enjoy delicious treats if you happen to be in Malta this Christmas. It is very common for Maltese families to enjoy homemade meals for Christmas and New Year. You can also enjoy amazing dishes if you plan on eating out. Families are close and large here, they often celebrate together and there can be over 20 people at the dinner table; it’s common to have so much food on the table that it could feed an entire family for a week!

Malta has also inherited the British tradition of baking minced pies for the Christmas season. They are small, sweet pies, filled with a combination of spices and dried fruits. If you are offered one, warm it and eat it with ice cream, it’s a delicious combination! IELS Malta students will be offered mulled wine (another British Christmas tradition!) and mince pies on December 20th at 12:30pm by the leisure desk, mark your calendars if you’re at the school!

Traditional desserts include the famous Christmas log and Christmas cake. The latter was introduced in Malta by the British who occupied the Maltese Islands from 1814 to1964. It is a very Christmassy combination of sultanas, raisins, currants, dates, cherries, brandy and orange; a perfect mix for the holiday season.

Many countries made Christmas log a tradition, even though it originated in France, as the “Buche de Nöel“. The Maltese Christmas log, made with lots of chocolate, cherries, nuts, biscuits and a bit of whisky, is traditionally baked for Christmas and eaten throughout the day. The Maltese Christmas log is a little similar to the Italian and Portugese dessert known as chocolate salami. If you are interested in the recipe, you can find it on IELS Facebook page.

Another traditional dessert served at Christmas are Treacle Rings (Qagħqa tal-Għasel), sweet pastry rings filled with a treacle mixture. Literally translated they are ‘honey rings’, but there is absolutely no honey in the recipe.

Imbuljuta tal-Qastan is a traditional Maltese drink made of hot chestnut and chocolate. It is served after Midnight Mass on Christmas as well as on New Year’s Eve.

In addition to Christmas presents, little ones enjoy popular Maltese sweets, “Il-Milied iġeb il-Ħelu”, at Christmas. Adults with a sweet tooth also love the traditional sweet pastries served with coffee, namely chestnut pie (”torta tal-qastan“), treacle rings (”qagħaq tal-għasel“) and chestnut puree (”imbuljuta“).

Whether you are currently studying with IELS or plan to learn English in Malta, Christmas is an amazing time to discover the Maltese Islands. It is an occasion to discover century-old traditions and share Christmas spirit.

As you can see, Christmas is a magical time for locals and tourists alike. We hope that you too can experience how the season is celebrated to its fullest on the Maltese Islands.

Merry Christmas to you all!


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