Maltese Christmas Customs

The Presepju (Christmas Crib)

Christmas customs in Malta are plentiful but perhaps one of the cutest and oldest Xmas traditions is the presepju or Christmas crib.

Christmas cribs vary across the globe and this is no different in Malta.

Christmas Cribs in Malta

Malta has two variations of the crib.

The “grotta” meaning the cave, is usually a small children’s crib with tiny figurines. “Il-presepju” which is the more popular local term for crib, is the large and detailed Christmas crib that is found in the local churches, homes, large shopping centres, etc.

christmas customs in malta presepju

A small Christmas crib depicting the nativity scene

It is believed that Christmas cribs on the Maltese islands date back to the 17th century when cribs started being erected in the many local churches.

The Christmas crib’s introduction into Maltese homes came later, mainly due to the fact that the relevant statues were too expensive for the local common people.

It was at the beginning of the 19th century that some enthusiasts started to produce their own little figurines that were made of clay. These figurines were called “pasturi tas-sold”. Pasturi derives from the Italian word “pastore” that means shepherd. Sold in Maltese means penny. In fact, these little figurines were sold for only a penny.

Although very rough in appearance, it seems that these figurines immensely increased the popularity of Christmas cribs among the Maltese people.

After the Second World War, newer Christmas traditions were introduced into the Maltese islands, mainly by British servicemen who were stationed in Malta.

christmas customs in malta presepju

The Holy Family - Various large statues can be seen adorning the islands during the festive season. You can see them on roundabouts, in shopping centres, town squares and in various other locations.

These included the Christmas tree and Father Christmas. Christmas in Europe and across the globe is not "really" Christmas without Santa Claus, so as often happens, being something “new”, these somewhat flashier customs pushed aside the traditional Maltese Christmas crib for a while.

But enthusiasm for the traditional crib never really faded among those who loved this local Christmas tradition.

In 1986, a society named Friends of the Crib (Malta) was formed.

Its main aim? To re-launch the crib in the homes of the Maltese people as well as hold a crib exhibition in Valletta every year in December.

Nowadays, the society even provides lectures on how to build Christmas cribs. These lectures are usually held during the summer months.

During the month of December, various small crib exhibitions are held across the Maltese islands. These tiny displays are hugely popular with both locals and visitors alike, and especially with children.

So if you’re visiting Malta during the Christmas season, make sure you get to see one of the oldest Christmas customs in Malta and visit at least one of these Christmas Crib exhibitions. Some of the cribs on display are truly works of art!

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