Many thanks to Benardina Cole, wife of Joseph Cole, the Ambassador of Malta to the United States, for this interesting article on celebrating Christmas in Malta. We would love to have more articles and photographs sharing memories of holiday traditions. If you have any you would like to submit, please send them to email@example.com.
Celebrating Christmas In Malta
Christmas in the Mediterranean country of Malta, officially the Republic of Malta, is a lot like Christmas in the United States. In modern times, the country has adopted many practices popular in the west, like hanging stockings, putting wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree, and singing Christmas carols, but many old traditions have also remained steadfast. Here’s a crash course in celebrating a Maltese Christmas, whether you plan on visiting the beautiful country during the holidays, or just adding some culture-rich flair to your own celebration.
Ten Ways to Celebrate a Maltese Christmas:
2. Listen to a child’s sermon: During the midnight mass ceremony, a boy or a girl, normally aged 7 to 10 years old, preaches instead of the priest. This is called “Priedka tat-Tifel” which means the preaching of the child.
3. Build a nativity scene: In Malta nativity scenes are called cribs, or pastures. Scenes are displayed in churches and most homes, complete with figurines representing Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
4. Plant some grain: In Malta, it is traditional to sow wheat, grain and canary seed, called “gulbiena”, on beds of cotton in flat pans five weeks before Christmas. They are left in dark corners of the house until the seeds produce white grass-like shoots. The pans with the fully-grown shoots are then used to decorate the nativity scene.
5. Cook a big dinner: Today, the traditional Maltese Christmas menu has changed a bit, giving way to a Christmas Turkey and the side dishes which are popular in the United States and other countries. Sweet mincemeat pies are also popular for the holidays in Malta.
6. Watch a parade: The Procession of the Baby Jesus, a parade in which a priest carries a doll symbolizing Jesus, is a big part of the Maltese Christmas tradition. It was started by Dun Gorg Preca, the recently beatified founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine, and has now become an annual event.
7. Decorate a tree: In modern times, the Maltese began to put up Christmas trees in their homes, hang and stuff stockings, and unwrap gifts with their loved ones on Christmas Eve. The children also anxiously await a visit from Santa Claus.
8. Bake a rooster with vegetables: Though times have changed the Maltese Christmas menu, traditionally the Maltese housewife kept the fattest rooster, or “hasi”, especially for Christmas lunch, which was roasted at the local bakery in a casserole with potatoes and vegetables. The traditional desert served at Christmas was the Treacle Ring, “Qaghqa tal-Ghase”, and to top off the meal, a hot chestnut and cocoa soup,”Imbuljuta tal-Qastan”, was served, which is still served as a night cap during the cold December days.
9. Go on a fast: Christmas in Malta used to be celebrated with a four-week fast leading up to Christmas Eve and culminating in the Midnight Mass. After mass, people would feast on traditional sweets like honey-filled rings, figs, chestnut syrup and deep-fried date-rolls, known as “mqaret”.
10. Hand out cash: In the past Santa Claus was not part of the traditional Maltese Christmas, but gifts of money were given on New Year’s Day, called “l-Istrina”.
Christmas and New Year Traditional Food
Maltese housewives cooked traditional dishes for Christmas and New Year, which included; chicken broth (“brodu tat-tiġieġa”), baked chicken with potatoes (”tiġieġa bil-patata il-forn”), baked macaroni (”imqarrun il-forn“). For many Maltese, baked pork with potatoes was their Christmas main dish – ”majjal bil-patata il-forn”. The meal finished off with fresh fruit, oranges (”larinġ“), and tangerines (”mandolin”).
Christmas brings sweets (“Il-Milied iġeb il-Ħelu”), and is a happy day for those who love sweet things. A vast variety of fragrant sweet pastries like chestnut pie (”torta tal-qastan“), treacle rings (”qagħaq tal-għasel“) and chestnut puree (”imbuljuta“) are prepared. Usually sweet pastries are served separately with black coffee and with few drops of orange flower water (“ilma żahar“).
Enjoy the festive season ……..il-festi t-tajba lil kulhadd, and Merry Christmas ……… il-Milied it-Tajjeb.
We hope you have enjoyed reading about how Christmas is celebrated in Malta. So that you can enjoy some of the wonderful sweet things mentioned above, Benardina Cole has graciously shared the following recipes:
[title]Chestnut Tarts ”pastizzotti tal-qastan“[/title]
400g dried chestnuts
25g drinking chocolate
A pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of cloves
Zest of an orange
Zest of a lemon
750g sweet pastry
Method: Cover chestnuts with plenty of water and soak for 10 hrs. Place the chestnuts in a pan, add water and simmer until soft. Pass them through a sieve and drain all the water. Add all the ingredients and mix well. Line small tart tins with pastry and fill with chestnut mixture. Make a lattice pattern with pastry strips over the filling. Bake in a hot oven for 20-30 minutes.
[title]Treacle Rings “qagħaq tal-għasel“[/title]
Method: Rub the semolina, flour, sugar and margarine together until it is the consistency of bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and milk and knead until it becomes a dough. Leave the pastry in the fridge to chill for 2 hrs before using it.
16 oz treacle
2 tablespoons cocoa
8 oz sugar
Grated rind of a mandarin
Grated rind of an orange
1 tablespoon ground cloves
3 tablespoons anisette
2 tablespoons semolina
1 tablespoon mixed spices
Water as needed
Method: Put all the ingredients (except the semolina), into a saucepan and bring to a boil until it thickens, gradually add the semolina, continue cooking for a few seconds. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool.
Roll out the pastry into strips 8 cm by 25cm. Put some filling in the middle of the whole length of the strip. Fold the pastry to form a long tube, bring the ends together and form a ring. Sprinkle a baking sheet with semolina, put the rings on the sheet and with a sharp knife, slash the pastry in different places so that the filling is allowed space to open when cooking. Bake in a moderate oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
500g dried chestnuts (peeled)
1 tablespoon chocolate powder
Pinch of grated nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
Rind of a tangerine
600 ml water
Sugar to taste
Milk to finish
Method: Soak the chestnuts overnight in plenty of water. Drain and mix all the ingredients in a pot (not the sugar and milk). Cook over medium heat until the chestnuts are tender. Add sugar to taste and finish off with warm milk. Serve warm.