Christmas is just around the corner, and you’ve probably guessed by our recent flow of articles that we couldn’t be more excited about it!
It’s probably very easy to understand our enthusiasm (and if it’s not, we kindly ask you to bear with us for a few more weeks). If you’re in Malta and need to get into the Christmas spirit (or need an excuse to get into it even further) we’ve come up with a little checklist for things to look out for during the Christmas season in Malta. It mostly covers things you’ll find when you’re out and about, as well as things that you can actively look out for!
Whether you’re religious or not, it really is a wonder how the Maltese seemingly manage to set up nativity scenes in every single available space. These are known as presepji in Maltese (presepju for the singular term), so you’d better get used to the word!
For quite a few of us, decorating presepji is a hobby to be taken religiously (please excuse the pun). Which means that if you look around, you’ll find many intricately detailed ones that will leave you pretty stunned.
You’ll also find that there are plenty of larger presepji set up for public display everywhere, from roundabouts to used car showrooms. You could start a presepju spotting tally with a friend!
Don’t confuse presepji with cribs (maxturi) in Malta! These are usually more relegated to domestic displays, but you’ll find plenty of them in public spots too. Though you have less going on here than in the full-blown nativity scene, there are lots of differently styled cribs to gaze at, as you’ll find out by looking at 99% of current Maltese shop windows.
This is a Christmas tradition that we reckon is more Maltese than most. Vetches is known in Maltese as ġulbiena, and refers to a long, thin plant that is grown to decorate cribs and presepji. Traditionally planted on the 7th of December, this plant needs to grow in the dark. In just a few weeks, your ġulbiena could be the envy of all!
Decorations and lighting
If you’ve ever been to Malta during a village festa, then you know that it doesn’t take much for us to cover entire cities with decorations. It’s a mentality we happily uphold during Christmas. Though we’ve already brushed up on a few of the most Christmassy locations in Malta, it’s very hard to say that there’s any one city that is not Christmassy at all!
Some of the street decorations tend to get pretty unique, too. An example of this is a florescent light decoration that goes up every year in Birkirkara. It spells ‘SMART’, in reference to the Smart Supermarket in that street. The not-so-subtle marketing initiative never fails to crack us up.
Churches around Malta also brighten up during the Christmas season (as you’d expect), and seeing the beautiful light display is always a jolly sight every time.
Well, we might take Christmas seriously, but no one can accuse us of being all flash, no substance. We still give importance to charity during the rest of the year, of course, but just like in many other countries, the spirit of Christmas unscrooges us further, and opportunities to give to the needy spring up everywhere.
What’s more is that people will also come up with new ways to raise charity funds. Just recently, for example, a Ronnie James Dio tribute concert was given in aid of cancer patients in Malta.
One of Malta’s most important and well-known charity events that takes place annually is called L-Istrina and is known for raising millions of euros in aid of sufferers of all chronic diseases. This year, the televised event will take place on boxing day, and is sure to raise similar figures to those seen in previous years.
Amidst all the charity, of course, you can still have some money in your pocket to visit a few Christmas markets and stock up on a few trinkets. From decorations to artisan crafts and little gifts, these markets are a great way to remember that one doesn’t need to spend ridiculous amounts of money to indulge a little during Christmas.
Though some Christmas markets have already taken place, you can still visit the Pjazza Tigne Christmas Market in Sliema (7th-28th December).
Malta has a very strong Christmas pantomime culture, and as such every year two main productions are set up by two different theatre companies, the MADC, and Masquerade. These groups are often seen as rivals, but the reality is that you can of course choose to see both pantos if you so wish.
MADC’s pantomime for this year is called Un-Believe It!, and is taking place at the MFCC in Ta’ Qali. It’s got themes of magic and what seem to be quite a few Harry Potter references, so potterheads will love this production for sure.
Masquerade’s panto, taking place at the Manoel Theatre in Valletta is called Puss in Boots. No prizes for guessing the inspiration behind the story! In fact, Puss in Boots promises to be a continuation of Masquerade’s panto tradition of creating cheeky renditions of fairy tales.
Both pantos are running from the 22nd and 23rd of December (respectively) up until the 8th of January. They’re a treat for the whole family and we promise you’ll be in stitches – but we do warn you that you might want to acquaint yourself with local political gossip to understand all the references!