Christmas Traditions in Malta
The Maltese tradition of crib making (“presepju”) was influenced from Sicilian cribs. The earliest Maltese crib known was built at the Dominican Friars Church in Rabat in 1617. Another crib dated on the framework 1826 is found at the Benedictine Nuns in Mdina Malta; and another from the same period is found in Birgu, which has been over restored and not much left from the original. As cribs became more popular they also became more ‘Maltese’ with people replacing the Italian looking buildings and workers with local ones. Flour windmills were and are still popular features in a crib scene.
In Malta, two types of cribs are made-either in the shape of a grotto, or as the traditional large crib. The popular family crib (“presepju tal-familja”), is made with simple materials such as a thin wood base and chicken wire to hold the structure, this is covered with ‘paper mache’, made with home made flour glue. When finished, the crib is left to dry for days, before being painted with bright powder colour. Cardboard, burnt coal or pieces of rustic stone, easily found in Maltese countryside are used to structure larger cribs. Most cribs feature Jerusalem city as the back scenery. Some large cribs are worked mechanically creating the figures and other features moving around the countryside of Jerusalem with various caves, valley, hills with one word and streams.
The first Nativity scenes were decorated with expensive clay figures from Sicily. People could not afford to buy them, so several local crib dilettante, started moulding small clay figures and hand painted the face, hands and clothes. They were very rough and easily broken, so plaster moulds with local earth clay were used, and pressed to produce figurines called “pasturi”, derived from the Italian word “pastore”, which means shepherd, they were sold in many shops for a penny- “pasturi tas-sold”.
The most popular “pasturi”, were dressed in Maltese costumes, representing traditional crafts such as farmers, shepherds, the baker, climber, and the simple man full of wonder with both hands lifted up. Other popular “pasturi” include the musicians, the bagpipe player, the hand drummer, the friction drum player, and the two partners of Maltese folk singers.
The crib has become part of our country’s traditions. With great pride the whole family shows the decorated crib to every one who visits their home during the Christmas festive season.
If you are planning a visit to Malta enjoy your stay in a Luxury Malta hotel. The Excelsior Hotel Malta Team will make sure that you experience the unique Maltese Traditions.