Before moving to live in Malta, I used to holiday here regularly over Christmas. I wasn’t really involved in family festive meals, so I was left pretty much to my own devices; somewhat an outsider to the local Xmas holidays.
That does have its pros of course – firstly, the seafronts are almost deserted during the peak lunchtime hours on Christmas day. So you can enjoy a walk with great views and gulps of sea air while others feast. Your health will be all the better for it, having broken the rule of gluttony on the 25th.
But you may ask:”Isn’t Christmas day in Malta just a bit miserable when the islanders are all inside feasting with friends?” Here’s some reassurance that there is life still for people here as tourists on Christmas holiday.
Are things closed?
Christmas Day, 25th, is the only official public holiday day, along with New Year’s Day. The 26th, called Boxing Day in the UK, is not a public holiday in Malta.
A lot of cafes in major towns, resorts and the cities – Sliema, St Julian’s, Valletta, Mdina, Bugibba, Qawra and Gozo resorts – Marsalforn, Xlendi and so on – will be open. Of course, you’d need to book ahead at restaurants, many of which will be open, if you were intending to eat out on Christmas day. But you won’t be far from a light snack, hot chocolate (it can be cold on those seafront walks) and cappuccino. Hotel cafes will be open should you not find a quainter, trendier or more traditional one open on the high streets or promenades.
Shops will be closed (apart from the enterprising traders who predict that someone will be missing a Christmas present). So some stationers may be open, but it’s the only day in the year newspapers don’t print. Cafes doubling as confectioners or bakeries will be busy as guests buy delicacies to take to their Christmas day hosts. International chains of fast food restaurants will also be open.
What’s the weather like at Christmas?
Obviously it’s a lot warmer than in Northern Europe and even more so this year as northern neighbours endure the big freeze. December daytime temperatures can be a pleasant 16-22 or more if you’re in a sheltered sunny spot. Nights are chill, and wind can swirl around. It can be damp as it’s a maritime climate, but the real cold starts in January-February. Come with layers, and be prepared for stormy periods. See our hints here.
What can I do?
First, check out our What’s On guide for up-to-date info on events (New Year’s parties, exhibitions, clubbing and more).
If you’re wandering the streets, you can find plenty to amuse yourself looking at the various household Christmas decorations! From the traditional door wreaths to the entire plastic Santa village I once saw. The Christmas lights from dusk in Republic Street, Valletta, are magical. Crib viewing is a main Maltese occupation, so join the throngs. You’ll see cribs – Presepji – in all styles from the kitsch and mechnically-operated to the lovingly crafted and historic. Window shutters open to offer a peep of householders’ crib displays, while other residents turn their whole garage into a crib for public viewing. There are several crib displays – Auberge d’Italie, Valletta is one regular, but for sheer exuberance, visit the Bethlehem at Ghajnsielem, Gozo. A word you’ll need to know is’ Pasturi’, which means ‘crib figurines’. There’s a real art and craft to making them that’s carried on in Malta today.
Christmas Shopping hours
Valletta has late-night shopping until 9.00pm in the run-up to Christmas. Sliema shops stay open late too. Bay Street complex in St Julian’s is open until 10pm. Expect to join thick crowds ambling down Valletta’s main drag, Republic Street. It’s a ritual – shopping, supping a coffee, munching a cake, and enjoying the lights. Linger when the shops close and have a relaxed supper at one of the city’s many restaurants in historic piazzas and buildings. Wine bars tempt too!
What’s Happy Christmas in Maltese?
‘Merry Christmas’ in Maltese is ‘Il-Milied it-Tajjeb!’
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day masses
The cathedrals, as well as all parish churches, have their midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The usual parish midnight mass includes the tradition, dating back to 1883, of an altar boy (or girl these days) preaching the sermon, in Maltese, which is on this occasion called ‘Il-Priedka Tat-Tifel’. It will take the child a good few weeks to learn it all by heart! Another traditional sight worth catching, again in many parishes on Christmas Day morning, is the Procession of Baby Jesus. Children from the locality dress up as biblical figures, accompanied by a band.
What is a Maltese Christmas Day lunch?
Today, the same as the traditional British one – turkey with trimmings, Christmas pudding, mince pies or some Sicilian-style desserts from a fine confectioner. The Maltese love the Italian Christmas cake, Panettone, which is dry sponge with either a little candied peel and dried fruit, or chocolate filled. Hotels will offer the traditional lunch, usually as a buffet.
Does public transport run over Christmas?
In previous years, buses have run every day as usual in the Christmas period. But with the change to Arriva as the service provider, we’re not too sure what the timetable will be. Check the Arriva website nearer the holiday days themselves. Our guess is it will be a public holiday-Sunday service. Gozo Channel Ferry operates on Christmas Day, with a slightly reduced service.
Are museums open?
Yes, with business as usual apart from on Christmas Day itself. For state museum and sites’ opening hours, see Heritage Malta.
Photo: Leslie Vella