If you are looking to travel this holiday season, you’ll want to go somewhere that does Christmas big. Malta is just the place.
The people of Malta celebrate Christmas for its religious significance as well as the social aspect. When visiting, you will find the island decked out in its finest and full of cheer. Here are some activities you won’t want to miss.
What the Heck is Malta Anyway?
If you are geographically challenged like me, you may be wondering what Malta is. Is it a country? A city? An island? Well, it’s kind of all three.
Malta is a small archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It is an island country located south of Italy. It consists of three city islands; Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta is the largest of the three.
Temperatures in Malta rarely dip below 60 degrees. Therefore, it is a great place for escaping the cold during your winter getaway.
How is Christmas Celebrated in Malta?
Christmas in Malta is called “Il-Milied and it’s celebrated on Dec. 25. The people of Malta participate in a festival that emphasizes “presupju’ or Nativity cribs.
During the holiday season, people build these cribs all over town. They complete the manger scene by adding figurines called ‘pasturi’ that are meant to represent Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, the Angels, the villagers and the many animals that were rumored to be present during Christ’s birth.
On Dec. 24, Maltese churches are decorated with lights and nativity cribs made by the members of the church. A figure of baby Jesus is placed inside the crib at midnight. This is followed by a midnight mass service which includes a young church member telling the story of Christmas.
At Epiphany, which typically takes place 12 days after Christmas, the Wise Men are placed in the crib as well.
On Christmas day, the people of Malta celebrate by gathering with friends and family and eating a large feast. The meal is usually served at lunch time. All members of the extended family gather in one house to enjoy the festivities that go on until the evening.
Foods that are customary to eat include turkey (dundjan), honey rings (qaghaq talghasel), and Christmas pudding (pudina tal-Milied).
The Maltese make it a point to dress their houses to the nines for Christmas. Many have trees, wreaths and manger scenes. Just walking around the island is a holiday treat.
Many also sow wheat, grain and canary seed on cotton buds in dark corners of the house. If they are sown five weeks before Christmas and left undisturbed, they should shoot up into grass like sprouts on Christmas Day. The sprouts are then used to decorate the cribs that were made for the holiday.
What is There to Do in Malta During Christmastime?
Malta is very enthusiastic about Christmas so just being in the country can be a treat. But if you are looking for some activities to enjoy during your stay, here are a few suggestions.
Visit the Old Capital of Mdina
Mdina is the ancient capital of Malta. It sits on a hill in the center of the island that is encircled by scenic views and fortification. In addition to being a cultural attraction, there are also plenty of cafes, eateries and museums in the area.
Enjoy Upper Barrakka Gardens
If you want to take in some great scenery, the Barrakka Gardens are the place to do it. While the gardens are beautiful in and of themselves, when standing near them, you will be able to look out over the “Three Cities” of Malta and see the Grand Harbor. It is also walking distance from the capital city of Valletta which is another location worth checking out.
Scuba Dive at the HMS Maori
The warm temperatures of Malta mean it’s a great destination for swimming, diving and snorkeling. When you dive under, you will see plenty of artificial reefs and military wrecks from World War II. One of the most famous of these is the HMS Maori, a destroyer sunk by the Germans. Resting at a depth of 14 meters, it is easy to access making it an ideal underwater adventure for beginners.
Explore the Lascari’s War Room
After visiting the Upper Barracca Gardens, be sure to take a trip underneath to check out where Lascari’s War Rooms are located. 45 meters below ground, these are tunnels that were used to plan defensive strategies in World War II. This is a must-see attraction for history buffs.
Take a Tour of Casa Rocca Piccola
Casa Rocca Piccola is a historic home built in the 1680’s. Once a dwelling for aristocratic families, it has been converted into a museum. Guests can visit to check out the architectural features as well as the 18th and 19th costumes, artwork, antiques, photographs and documents. These provide insight on how aristocracy lived during these eras.
Visit Fort St. Elmo
Malta is rich in military history that dates back to the 16th century and the Knights of St. John. Fort St. Elmo is built in a star formation and it played a key role in the Siege of Malta which took place in 1565. About 1500 knights lost their lives during the battle. Guided tours of the fort are available, and they are a great opportunity to learn more about the fortification.
Cave Diving in Comino
If you like reef and cave diving, Comino is the place to do it. This uninhabited island is located just off the gulf of Malta between Gozo and the mainland and it is full of beautiful underwater caves. Dive under to explore the natural structure and to check out exotic sea life including octopus and barracuda.
Malta is a great place to visit, but it is especially magical during Christmastime. Which of these activities will you be putting on your bucket list?