The Beginner’s Guide to Christmas in Malta
It’s that time of the year again! Though this year is a bit different, we’ll still enjoy the season’s best qualities: graceful flickering candles, wreaths on doors, trees threaded with glittering fairy lights, the bubbling excitement in the wait for Father Christmas… Malta shares these things with other countries, but it’s also got some of its own traditions – so we’ve selected the merriest ones to share with you.
The crib goes back centuries and likely came from Sicily and Naples. The Maltese version is elaborate, featuring windmills, ruins, and rocky caves from the island’s landscape. Figurines, just like the crib itself, are traditionally handmade. Cribs are placed all around Malta when Christmas is coming. Families often place smaller ones, or simply Baby Jesus in the manger, in their households.
A favourite among children, ġulbiena or “light-deprived vetches”, are grown in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Nobody really knows how the custom came to be, but ġulbiena is traditionally used to decorate cribs. Seeds are sewn in damp cotton wool lining a foil tin, which is left in a dark cupboard to grow long, sprawling white shoots. Young ones love the magic of seeing them sprout so quickly.
Pronounced “qaaq tal-aah-sel”, these Christmas biscuits literally translate to “honey rings”, which is ironic, because they don’t actually have any honey in them. Treacle made from the season’s citrus fruit harvest is used instead. In the past, though, the filling of qagħaq tal-għasel was indeed made from the honey extracted from honey combs that had been melted for the purpose. You can buy these biscuits all year round, but it’s a sweet thing to stick to tradition and get them at Christmastime. Even better is to make your own – see here to learn how.
The Sermon of the Child is one of the many elements of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, which families love to go to. Rather than a priest, a tiny boy or girl aged between seven and ten narrates the story of the Nativity at the church’s main altar. It is one of the oldest local Christmas traditions, dating all the way back to 1883. After the Midnight Mass, people sip mugs of hot Imbuljata tal-Qastan – a spicy drink consisting of chocolate and chestnuts, which is reserved solely for this occasion and New Year’s Eve.
We wish all of you and your families a very heartfelt merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year!
The Mini Malta Team