Leaving Christmas in Mali, we head north-easterly for 2,727km to Malta for the next stage of our Christmas tour around the world.
Malta, located in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Tunisia, is a small country made up of 3 islands: Malta main island, Gozo and the tiny Comino which lays between the two.
With a population of around 500,000, Malta receives more visitors every year than people who live there - more than 1.6 million tourists arrive every year to see what Malta has on offer. It may be small, but it has plenty to see.
Malta has been used as a filming location for many blockbuster movies (Clash of the Titans, Gladiator, Troy, Assassin's Creed are just a few examples) along with a number of TV series like Game of Thrones.
Other reasons for Malta being a hot tourist destination are the stunning coastlines, the fabulous cuisine and its diving hotspots.
So, how do they celebrate Christmas in Malta?
Christmas is celebrated on 25th December in Malta.
In Malta, most people are Catholic.
Churches are decorated with Christmas lights, and each has its own ‘Presepju’ which is a nativity scene built by the congregation. The figurines in the scene are called ‘pasturi’ and are usually the typical nativity characters (angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph etc.), baby Jesus is added on the morning (at midnight) of Christmas Day. The wise men are then added on Epiphany. Some cribs are even mechanised to have moving figures.
Many houses will also have their own ‘Presepju’. Large figures of baby Jesus are sometimes put behind curtains and on balconies and then lit up at night.
Christmas Trees are common in every household and are decorated with Christmas lights, tinsel, and other ornaments. Christmas wreaths and candles are also popular. ‘Gulbiena’ (wheat, grain and canary seeds home-grown on cotton buds five weeks before Christmas) are used to decorate either the crib or the baby Jesus figure.
Most people will go to a midnight mass service. On Christmas Eve, there’s a procession through the streets in which a life-sized figure of baby Jesus is carried at the head by four boys. Many people attend this procession, some carrying lanterns as a traditional way to light the event.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the ‘Friends Of The Crib’ society put on an exhibition of about 100 cribs of all shapes and sizes. A tradition during the midnight mass service is ‘Priedka tat-Tifel’ which is where a child, usually between 7-10 years old, does the preaching of the sermon instead of a priest. To do this, they have to have memorised the sermon and then they’re also encouraged to give it their own personal touch. It’s also common for local churches to organise a nativity play performed by the children.
Many children believe in Santa Claus and he brings their presents on Christmas night (Christmas Eve/Christmas morning), perhaps even knocking on the door to deliver the presents early in the evening. Schools will tend to host Christmas concerts where the children sing carols and perform mimes and poetry, as well as class Christmas parties where children will share food and gifts and some money may be collected for charity. There are also voluntary organisations that organise carol singing evenings and Christmas parties in nursing homes and hospitals.
The main Christmas meal is Christmas Day lunch. The traditional main course is rooster roasted in a casserole of potatoes and vegetables (this used to be done in a local bakery but now families may do it for themselves) while the dessert is a Treacle ring known as ‘Qaghqa tal-Ghasel’.
After the meal, ‘Imbuljuta tal-Qastan’ may be served which is a hot cocoa and chestnut soup. Western influences may also make their way into the Christmas meal in dishes such as roast turkey, Christmas cake, Mince pies and Christmas pudding. Italian Panettone is also popular which is a type of sweet bread.
Our next Christmas destination looks at Christmas celebrations in Mexico.