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Articles in this blog may be ESE news, academics pieces written by our team or events in Malta of general interest.

Top 3 Christmas traditions in Malta

Ho! Ho! Ho! – It’s Christmas! A time when millions of people around the globe celebrate this holy feast with family gatherings, by exchanging gifts, overindulging in glorious, luxurious foods, and singing Christmas carols. Despite all these events, the Maltese and Gozitans have a few traditions which have been passed down from generation to generation.


Nativity Crib

1. Il-Presepju (The Nativity Crib)

This custom originated in Italy where Saint Francis of Assisi re-enacted the Birth of Christ. The first ever crib in Malta was housed by the Dominican Friars in Rabat in 1607. Nowadays, cribs are found in almost all households and displayed in windows all over the island.

Although this tradition has spread all over Europe, the Maltese Nativity cribs have their distinctive features. Presepji enthusiasts usually use rustic stones known as ‘gagazza’ found in abundance in the countryside, papier mâché and wood to build their cribs. Cribs are then decorated with different figurines of characters which bring the creation to life. The Holy Family, the three kings, shepherds with their flocks of sheep along with a few additions such as the village baker, the bag pipe players and without fail the village simpleton (L-Għaġeb tal-Presepju), who wonders in awe at the miracle of Christmas are some of the staple characters in the local presepju. No crib is complete without being decorated with vetches (ġulbiena), a plant used as a Christmas decoration which is planted in cotton wool or saw dust, placed in a dark spot to grow white and stringy.

The Nativity Crib (designed by local artist Manwel Grech) at the Vatican City this year was donated by the Government and Archdiocese of Malta.

Every year, for the last 8 years, 150 volunteers from Gozo create a live crib spread over 20,000 square metres of land situated just up the hill from the harbour of Mgarr, from where the Gozo ferry crosses between the two islands. This crib is definitely worth a visit. For more information and opening hours, click on this link –


2. Il-Priedka tat-Tifel (The Alter Server’s Sermon)

Christmas still retains its strong religious roots for the Maltese people. Many flock to Midnight Mass at their local parish church after Christmas Eve’s dinner or nibbles, to listen to a child under the age of 10 give the sermon instead of the celebrating priest. The child entrusted with this special performance, isn’t to take this responsibility lightly. For months before Christmas, the young altar server would spend hours rehearsing his/her speech in front of his family members as it is considered a privilege to be chosen to give this performance. After delivering the sermon, the child is given a gift as a sign of gratitude from the clergy. This tradition is believed to have started in 1883 in the village of Luqa, where a boy called George Sapiano was the first altar boy to deliver the much anticipated sermon.

When in Malta on Christmas Eve, attend such a ceremony for a memorable experience. If you are not interested in the Priedka tat-tifel, it’s worth going to the Christmas Eve Procession. Follow the newborn baby Jesus and you will be met with traditional Maltese coffee and mqaret (dates pastries) which the parish priest offers to the members of the community after mass.



3. Make way for that ‘ħasi’ (capon)

We (the Maltese) do love our food so Christmas lunch is a feast for all foodies. Traditionally, Maltese families kept the fattest capon, ’ħasi’, they had on their farm and on Christmas Eve prepared it in a dish with potatoes and vegetables so as to have it roasted at the local bakery. Of course, no meal is complete without dessert and certainly not on Christmas day. If you have a sweet tooth, you can expect to eat an qagħqa ta’ l-għasel (treacle ring) and wash it down with a mug of Imbuljuta tal-Qastan (a hot chestnut and cocoa drink). This drink is sure to keep you warm on a cold December day.

Nowadays, some international Christmas favourites have also made their way to the dining table. The famous Christmas turkey, Christmas cakes, Christmas pudding and mince pies are all foods which we inherited during the 164-year British rule in Malta. However, a secret between you and me, the Maltese will always favour local produce at heart.

Merry Christmas Everyone!


Focus on Fluency

  • gathering /ˈɡæðərɪŋ/ noun – a group of people meeting together
  • overindulge /ˌəʊvərɪnˈdʌldʒ/ verb – to allow yourself to have too much of something you enjoy, especially food or drink
  • custom /ˈkʌstəm/ noun – something that people do that is traditional or usual
  • enthusiast /ɪnˈθjuːziæst/ noun – someone who is very interested in something or excited by it and spends time doing it or learning about it
  • altar server /ˈɔːltə(r)sɜːvə/ noun phrase – a child who helps a priest in a religious service, especially in the Catholic Church
  • sermon /ˈsɜː(r)mən/ noun – a speech made by a priest or religious leader, especially as part of a religious ceremony
  • capon /ˈkeɪpɒn/ noun –  a castrated domestic rooster fattened for eating
  • sweet tooth /swiːt tuːθ/   – a great liking for sweets


Sarah Zammit Author: Sarah Zammit

About the Author: Sarah Zammit is the Academic Quality Assurance and Teacher Development Coordinator at ESE. Since joining in 2001, she has taught all levels and courses which are offered. Her passion is teacher training and developing teachers to offer the best quality teaching which ESE is renowned for. 
Sarah has given various workshops both locally at the Malta ELT Conferences as well as internationally at the EAQUALS International Conference in Malaga in 2015 and IATEFL in Birmingham in April 2016. She is currently completing her DELTA..

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Articles in this blog may be ESE news, academics pieces written by our team or events in Malta of general interest.  Please feel free to write to us with any comments, suggestions or any articles you may have written and would like to share with us and our students.