This the season to be jolly!
Christmas is our favourite time of the year- it’s when Michael Buble’ comes out of his cave, Mariah Carey’s voice gets stuck in our heads, and our elasticated waistbands expand tenfold. Not to mention the lights, the atmosphere and the smell of mulled wine lurking in the air. It is absolutely magical.
Here in Malta, take pride in our very own Maltese traditions- they are a family affair, there to remind us of times gone by. Here is a definitive list of our four most favourite Christmas holiday season traditions:
1. The Presepju (Nativity Scene)
Loved by kids and adults alike, this tradition brings families together (our favourite kind of tradition)! One can expect to find at least one presepju in every household. Tiny figures appear in the Nativity Scene, depicting the birth of Christ (complete with at least one donkey, one cow and three wise men). Sizes may vary- from portable tiny Bethlehem Caves to full, life-size displays. You can find a local presepju exhibition in every Maltese village throughout the Christmas season.
2. Midnight Masses
The old classic Midnight Mass, the one which Nanna (that’s Maltese for Grandmother) used to drag us to every single mass. The mass would start promptly at 12am between the 24th and the 25th of December, waaaay past our bedtimes, so a little snooze on Dad’s shoulder was always called for. However, the snooze is always rudely interrupted by the Priedka tat-tifel (translation: the Sermon of the Child)- instead of having the parish priest deliver the sermon, a local boy or girl delivers it, giving the mass an “awwwh” factor. You can find a midnight mass at the parish church in any Maltese Village.
3. Nanna’s Gulbiena
Gulbiena are vetches, usually used to decorate the house during the festive season. The vetches usually surround the decorative baby jesus, found in every Maltese household, or the presepju. For the gulbiena to grow, one would need cotton wool, and a lack of direct sunlight, so keep it away from windows! The gulbiena grows tall and wild, perfectly representing the environment of the nativity scene. If there’s one thing we Maltese know how to do, it is authenticity!
4. Nanna’s Christmas Lunch
“Lunch” is, quite honestly, a very inadequate way to describe this meal- it literally lasts ALL DAY. The day would start out at around 11am, where drinks and appetizers (those dips of bigilla, a broad bean dip, and pieces of gbejniet, Maltese cheeselets) are served. After the entire family gathers around the makeshift dinner table (that’s like three of four tables joined together to accommodate all), Nanna brings out the brodu (a hearty, light soup). Three courses later, you’re at “desert”; a collection of mince pies, Christmas logs and Christmas pudding. Be honest- are you drooling yet?
Bonus Tradition: The Street Decorations
This is not exactly a tradition, but more of a “checkpoint” for most Maltese households. The rule is: you can only start decorating the house once the streets and roundabouts are decorated- anything before that is considered to be super tacky, and you will ultimately be the talk of the neighbourhood. Curb your enthusiasm.