Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Malta

Merry Christmas or Millied it-Tajjeb from Malta! We hope you had a lovely holiday break and enjoyed good food, drink, and company with family and friends. After a fantastic week skiing with M's family in Chamonix, France (blog post to follow by M!) we arrived back in Malta on Christmas Eve in time for our first Christmas abroad. Our fake tree hadn't lost any needles during our departure, and our Christmas turkey dinner tasted almost as good as mom's.

Given its high percentage of Catholicism Christmas is obviously celebrated in Malta. However, there are some notable differences between the Canadian and Maltese versions of Christmas. From decorations, to food, to shopping Malta does Christmas big. The "Christmas season" appears to start later in Malta, with decorations and shopping really beginning in the first week of December (vs. mid-November in Canada). There is no Christmas TV in Malta - not even Frosty the Snowman or Rita McNeil's Christmas Special. There also wasn't as much Christmas music in malls or on the radio as there is in Canada, and obviously, not as much snow.

Christmas decorations in Malta are much different from Canada, being in a warm climate with no "front yards" so to speak. Christmas decorations in Malta include "cribs" or nativity scenes, 60 watt light bulbs strung between houses up and down the street to create a kind of light canopy, and purpose built light structures such as the ones below.

Lights in Msida, near our flat

Christmas lights in Republic Street, Valletta (image source unknown)

The capital city of Valletta puts on a very good Christmas show with lots of decorations. Christmas (and curiously, Top 40) music blares on speakers throguhout the main shopping thoroughfares. It seems to be a Maltese tradition to spend a day in Valletta shopping and eating at a sidewalk cafe (that's right, outside in December!). The malls are also decorated, just like in Canada. One mall in Sliema even had an outdoor "skating" rink (synthetic ice and plastic skates).

Merchant Street with Christmas decoreations by day

Jess on Merchant Street after attending a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet with guest dancers from the Bolshoi and Moscow Ballet - superb!

Republic Street street decorated for Christmas by day (notice the crowds of shoppers up the street!)

Republic street lit up for Christmas by night
This gives you a less than perfect idea of what Christmas decorations look like in Malta, made better if you imagine every village and every major street lit up like this. Needless to say, it was quite festive!

Actors at the Ghajnseliem Crib (
Traditional Maltese crib (image source)

Another Maltese Christmas tradition is the Maltese "crib" or nativity scene. Similar to Sicilians, the Maltese pride themselves on their elaborate cribs, from small, intricately carved wooden figurine scenes to Ghajnsielem, the real, built village of "Bethlehem" in the Maltese countryside populated with 150 volunteer actors and farm animals. Whereas in Canada a favourite Christmas tradition is to drive around to look at lights at night, in Malta a favourite Christmas tradition is to tour these "live" and "artistic" cribs in every village. Cribs are so popular that there is a specific profession dedicated to the creation of crib figurines year round!

In Malta Christmas foods are much the same as in Canada (I suspect this is due to the British influence in both countries). In Malta Christmas dinner is turkey and all the trimmings. The Maltese also do Christmas pudding and mince meat pie. Uniquely Maltese Christmas foods include honey rings - pastry filled with mince meat and treacle, and a cocoa chestunut soup known as imbuljuta. The Maltese also love their panettone - Italian cakes that come prepackaged and sold in supermarkets. We tried one and it looked and tasted curiously like a giant Twinkie (with a similar shelf life). Christmas "sweets" in Malta include Quality Street chocolates, but oddly, no candy canes!

We had a really nice, warm Christmas in Malta, our first away from "home". It was great to talk to our families on Christmas Day and we hope they enjoyed the holiday as well. It was quite strange to be in a warm climate for Christmas, but however different our holiday was it was very interesting to experience Christmas in another culture. I do hope that even though they don't do "Boxing Day" here in Malta they still do Boxing Day Sales!

Our Maltese gingerbread house, complete with roof top terrace, luzzu, and beach

Christmas Eve in Sliema (left) and Valletta (right)

The larger lit up buildings are churches
Churches lit up in Valletta for Christmas
Sliema churches and The Strand lit up for Christmas Eve

Cave style dog beds. What more could a wiener ask for?

Our fake Maltese Christmas tree - no real trees on this island!

Our first turkey
Our first Christmas dinner. It was more delicious than it looks.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year from both of us.


  1. Love your gingerbread house! Happy New Year Jess and Mike! The details of your trip with anxious Jack make me feel like I was with you ;)

    Lots of Love,
    Tricia (and Nick)

  2. Not sure which was better, the tree or the gingerbread house!


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