Christmas in Malta 🎄
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
I’ve always loved #Christmas, new Christmas Eve jamas (pyjamas) the excitement of leaving Santy - that’s what I called Santa - a glass of sherry and a mince pie, leaving a carrot out for Rudolph, the newspapers beside the fire so Santy wouldn’t get soot on the carpet.........
I loved each and every magical moment of it all.
I remember vividly the thrill of listening for sleigh bells in the Christmas Eve night skies, and the trepidation of opening the door to the front room on Christmas Day morning, hoping and praying that I had been a good enough girl for Santy to have visited. Oh the joy to see the sooty footprints on the newspaper and the wide eyes and oohs when I spotted each little surprise wrapped in brightly coloured wrapping paper laying on the sofa!
I think this is why I love Christmas in #Malta so much, this gorgeous little island shines, and sparkles under a blanket of twinkling lights and still carries that simple, innocent magic of Christmases gone by.
Having travelled to this beautiful island in the #Mediterranean for the past four decades, I guess you could say I’m completely smitten 🥰 and I guess you could also say I’m practically half Maltese now 😆 I’ve spent numerous Christmas’s here over the years and each time I’ve had a ball. I’d very much like to share with you a compendium of things to do, attractions to see, and food to savour which will help you to truly soak up the festive atmosphere if you are holidaying or thinking of holidaying here at this time of year. I’ve also included a number of incredibly handy insider tips too.
I’ve tried to think of the questions I would want to ask if this was my first time travelling to Malta at such an important time of year. However If there is anything you are still unsure of which I haven’t answered in this blog, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for advice. Ooh I felt all Four Tops there 😆
So, without further ado, here we go..............
What is the weather like at Christmas?
Well now that’s a difficult one, 🤔 I’ve spent Christmas Days in 70 degree warm sunshine and others spent in torrentially chilly rain and wind. The best recommendation I can make is to remain watchful of this page, the Malta Airport weather page as it’s incredibly accurate.
Having said that, Malta as an island is only 17 miles long and 9 miles wide so weather can move in very quickly, but also move out just as quickly which is a huge bonus! ☔️ ☀️ Please don’t think this perfectly petite island is so small that it won’t have much to offer you, there is so much to see and do, historically and architecturally it’s the most breath-taking place I’ve ever visited, trust me when I say you’d be struggling to fit everything in in a two week visit!
When the weather is good, it’s very good, you’ll wake to the clearest blue skies, when its bad, it’s horrid, stormy grey skies, wild seas and very strong winds. The Malta Transport bus services which cover the whole of the island make it very easy to get around though. December is the wettest month of the year so do pack an umbrella ☂️ Average temperatures range from the mid 50's to around 70 degrees but you do need to factor in the high humidity which can make it feel a lot colder than it actually is, especially in the late afternoon and into the evening. Hail stones and storms are not unknown at this time of year too. I guess the message is “be prepared for all eventualities” 😆
This leads me naturally onto.........
So what do I need to pack?
Being a girl who has been caught out many times before and ended up with an impromptu shopping trip as she’s packed all the wrong clothes 😆 I am totally best placed to answer this question
Seriously though, I would recommend packing layers, along with some good boots or trainers, pop in a pair of flip flops too just in case, a warm jacket is essential, gilets are a godsend worn with a nice thick scarf and jumper, leggings, jeans, hoodies and T-shirt’s are great choices too. For an evening it’s very casual, but you may want to pop in a couple of smart dresses 👗 and heels 👠, smart shirt and brogues for the guys for any festive meals you are taking, as those are very dressy affairs! 👔
If you have access to an indoor pool or a protected from the wind sunbathing area you may want to pop in your bikini or swim shorts too. The Maltese are a hardy lot and you will still see them swimming in the sea, and taking part in charity dips, but we would find it bracing, or Baltic I feel is a much more appropriate description 🥶 😆 Don’t be at all surprised to see the locals bundled up in heavy fur and leather coats coupled with fur boots and hats whilst out and about during the day. On one of the occasions where I got my wardrobe very wrong, I set out wearing a sun dress and flip flops only for the temperature to dip dramatically mid afternoon leaving me receiving some very strange stares 🤣🥶🙈
What is Malta like at Christmastime, will I like it?
In one word - magical! The Maltese really do adore this time of year and the true spirit of Christmas really does still exist here. It’s a time when all generations come together to celebrate and enjoy the various festive family activities available. 🥰
Malta is predominantly a Catholic country, 98% of the population are in fact, since St Paul was shipwrecked here in AD 60 changing Malta’s religious history forever by converting the islands inhabitants to Christianity ✝️ Therefore Christmastime is an extremely special and important time of the year for its residents.
The streets are decorated so prettily with Christmas lights and decorations, and in #Valletta, the islands capital city, you can shop until you drop listening to your favourite Christmas tunes which are piped out into the shopping streets. It’s just so lovely and not at all commercial as our Christmases are here.
The stores are open later in the lead up to Christmas and are even open on Sundays too. Wherever you wander you will come across a beautiful #Nativity display, outside in the villages and towns, and also inside hotels and restaurants.
Valletta is just stunning at Christmas, there’s the Mdina Glass blown glass bauble Christmas trees and the breath-taking Christmas lights display on Republic Street.
Sliema also puts on a super show, with huge Christmas bears and stunning christmas trees in the beautiful shopping centre The Point
to the even bigger illuminated Christmas gift all wrapped up with a bow 🎁 in St Anne’s square.
The beautiful traditional Maltese balconies which are so captivating at any time of year, are decorated with Christmas wreaths and fairy lights making them impossibly prettier.
You will very much notice that restaurants and pubs are quite busy early evening as friends, families and colleagues all get together to enjoy a little Christmas cheer!
Will the island be busy?
November through to March is the low season for tourists in Malta mainly as the warm Mediterranean sunshine cannot really be guaranteed. However the Christmas and New Year weeks do get busy and it can be quite an expensive time to visit if you don’t take advantage of the early release low cost flight prices and book in advance accommodation deals. There are an abundance of hotel options across the island ranging from 5* luxury to Air BNB so there is something to fit everyone’s budget. Please bear in mind that self catering may work out cheaper overall, but as the cost of living is higher than here in the UK, you’ll need to factor in your food bills ( thankfully the local wine is extremely reasonable 😆)
Tip - book as early as you can
Can I attend a church service in Malta at Christmas?
Of course! The parishioners will welcome you with open arms. With a population of just over 440,000 there is one church for every 1,000 residents, I will let you do the math 😲 as to how many churches there are on an island spreading over just 92 square miles.
As previously stated the main religion is Roman Catholic, but other religious denominations which are represented are Adventist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Evangelical Baptist Church, Reformed Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican, Church of England, Muslim, (there is only the one mosque 🕌 which is located in Paola) Methodist and Greek Byzantine.
The Catholic Churches are stunning at Christmas, lit with fairy lights and beautiful nativity scenes with the crib of course being the focal point of the display, and very often you will find that these displays are near life size!
Attending Midnight Mass after the traditional Christmas Eve dinner is a long established Maltese custom. An unusual addition to this mass is that the sermon/story of the Nativity is given from the alter by a young girl or boy between the ages of around 7-10, instead of the priest. It’s called The Sermon of the Child or in Maltese Il-Priedka tat-Tifel.
One thing to bear in mind if you intend upon attending one of the Christmas Eve midnight masses, is that most of these services will be conducted in Maltese or Latin. Although if you carry out a google search or ask the advice of the extremely friendly locals you will be able to find one in English. After mass, it’s traditional to enjoy a warming and comforting mug of Imbuljuta tal-Qastan, a drink made with hot chestnuts and chocolate.
Tip - you can purchase beautiful nativity sets in the numerous gift stores across the island, ranging from glass and crystal to ceramic - it’s a lovely keepsake to take home reminding you of fond memories made during a Maltese Christmas.
Must do’s and must see’s to fully immerse yourself in a Maltese Christmas.
Top of the list is Valletta, it’s stunning at any time of year but is truly magical at Christmas. There is just so much festive cheer throughout the city! Do visit one of the many stunning baroque churches, there are over 25 of them, along with the stupendous St Johns Co-Cathedral. Find time to savour one of the delicious hot chocolates or a spiced mulled wine whilst watching the world go by at one of the many pavement cafes.
Tip - no flash photography is allowed inside the Co-Cathedral. There is also an entrance fee payable, €10 for adults, €7.50 for students and seniors, children under the age of 12 accompanied by an adult are free.
New to Valletta for Christmas is Fairyland - Santa’s City. The entrance to Valletta surrounding the Triton Fountain was turned into a Christmas village complete with a 32m high giant Ferris wheel, and an ice rink. There was a beautiful carousel, complete with prancing horses. Of course Santa was in situ in his grotto waiting to meet the young ones. There were oodles of artisan craft stalls, and a huge variety of festive food and drink options. Entrance to the site was free, but the rides had an additional fee. The site was open from the 12th of December until the 5th of January. It was such a tremendous success I’m sure it will return for 2020.
Tip - Fairyland is extremely busy from dusk, and queues are extremely long for the rides and to visit Santa. If you can visit during the day, you will be able to wander freely without the long queues.
Across on the island of Gozo, Malta’s smaller sister, you can visit Bethlehem Ghajnsielem. Ghajnsielem is a 10 minute walk uphill from the ferry terminal at Mgarr. The ferry journey from Cirkewwa in Malta takes around 20-25 minutes and you can catch a bus to Cirkewwa from all parts of the island as well as the airport. Alternatively hire cars are readily available with all major rental companies represented.
The nativity village is situated adjacent to the Għajnsielem main square. This life-size crib, constructed on 20,000 square metre (sqm) of fields on a stretch of land known as Ta’ Passi, comes to life during the month of December with about 150 actors taking visitors back in time to Judea of 2000 years ago. The site is a fully functional village with a volunteer cast of hundreds. You can even rent a room at the Bethlehem Inn and stay for the night! Horses turn mills, villagers go about their jobs, shepherds inhabit caves, animals roam in enclosed spaces and a poor unknown couple tend to their newly-born baby in a grotto...
It opens on the 13th of December and closes on the 5th of Jan. The best thing of all? Entrance is free! It’s such a cool day out for all generations, and from there it’s just a short bus ride or drive to Victoria the islands capital and the breathtakingly beautiful Citadel.
Tip - if you do visit Victoria, make time to pop into the Cafe Jubilee for a coffee, beer or glass of wine. If the weather is nice, they will have seating available in Independence Square, but do pop inside, as the interior takes you back to a Golden Era reminiscent of the 1920`s and 30’s.
Is Christmas even Christmas without a Pantomime? He’s behind you!!!! There’s no need to leave this tradition at home when you can spend a wonderful evening at the Pantomime in the stunning historic Teatru Manoel in Valletta! This year it was time to go under the sea to meet Arial and her friends in “The Little Mermaid” 🧜♀️ This all singing all dancing extravaganza took place from the 22nd of December through to the 5th of Jan. Perfect to pair with a visit to Fairyland Malta.
What are the main days of celebration?
Christmas in Malta is an awaited event, especially by the excited young ones. It truly is a time when all of the family get together to celebrate the Birth of Christ.
The Maltese Christmas Eve is a day of last minute preparations and gift shopping, followed by a family dinner and a visit to the traditional Christmas Eve mass. Another Maltese tradition is the post mass Early Christmas Breakfast. This is usually served between midnight and 2am-4am!Here are two example menus to give you an idea, both from two of my favourite restaurants ( see Introducing my favourite foodie hotspots and watering holes on the island of Malta ) think breakfast crossed with brunch with a Prosecco thrown in 😀
My Christmas Eve is usually a little less wholesome than the above 😆 and always includes fizz, a glass or two of my favourite sherry in the Plough and Anchor followed by a boogie in the Sun and Splendour. 🍾💃 The really cool thing about Christmas Eve in Malta, if you’re in a pub, Christmas Day is counted down and rang in, in similar fashion to our New Years Eve/New Years Day. It’s fabulous, there’s an amazing party atmosphere and I very much look forward to the arrival of Santa Claus as the bells chime midnight at the Sun in a Splendour pub (again see Introducing my favourite foodie hotspots and watering holes on the island of Malta, all generations join in with the party, with dancing and singing and lots and lots of laughter!
Christmas Day, is the only official public holiday, and the only day that newspapers don’t go to print! Like most countries it’s the most awaited celebration 🥳 It’s a true family day. If you are staying in a hotel on a half or full board basis, you will undoubtedly have your festive meals included. If you have any other room basis or are on a self catering basis I’d highly recommend that you book your Christmas lunch in advance.
You may find one or two small cafes open in the larger towns and in Valletta, but you can pre-book a table in any of the hotels offering a Christmas Day lunch.
This year we dined in the beautiful Corinthia St George Hotel, in St George’s Bay, St Julians. I have to say it was incredible. The lunch was buffet style and there was so much choice, seafood, antipasti, cold cuts, soup, salad, pasta, local breads of every description, and this was just the starter section. So many different choices of main courses to suit every diet and palate, including of course traditional roast turkey 🦃 with all the trimmings! The dessert table, now that was simply to die for, Cassata Siciliana, cannoli, mini fruit tarts, cheese cake, chocolate tortes, mini trifles, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, and even a Gluten Free dessert section of its very own.
Whilst savouring every morsel of such delicious food, we were serenaded by a band and a fabulous singer, the volume was just right and the choice of playlist perfect. Everything from well known ballads to rousing popular traditional Maltese Christmas songs. Santa and his elves even popped in to say “ho, ho, ho” which was a true delight for the young ones in the room and also for us 😆
On Christmas Day everyone can be seen wearing their finery, even the young ones are in party dresses and little suits and waistcoats, it really is a heart-warming sight to see. Families are close and large here, and celebrate together, there can be over 20 people at the dinner table!
However if you prefer a lighter lunch, festive afternoon tea is served in the lounge area, overlooking a delightfully huge ginger bread house, which is a true replica to the hotel in every detail. We could actually point out the very room we stayed in earlier in the year. 🤩
In Malta Boxing Day is a normal day (so long as it doesn’t fall on a Sunday) where offices and stores open as usual. But, if you can power through your hangover and find some Gaviscon for the indigestion 😆 Boxing Day is synonymous for the start of the sales, and they are awesome, prices are quite literally slashed!
I think this guy was still powering through as we passed - I can onfirm he was alive though as he moved position ever so slightly 😆
There are some familiar names on the High Street, M&S, Matalan, River Island, Clark’s, Debenhams, Peacocks...........plus lot's of chic designer stores, Liu Jo, Armani Exchange, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and lots of independent boutiques selling the big names, Valentino, Roberto Cavalli, Versace..........and the best thing about it? It’s extremely civilised, none of the pushing, shoving and grabbing of our sales here in the UK, shopping on this day here is actually a pleasure!
Main shopping centres are The Point in Sliema, Valletta’s Republic Street and a number of smaller streets which lead off, Sliema’s Strand and Plaza shopping centre and Bay Street shopping centre in St George’s Bay St Julians.
To give you an idea of just how cheap the sales are, I picked up a beautiful baby blue 3/4 length coat for €19 and a pair of white block heel sandals by Dune for €13 in Debenhams at The Point. I would have bought sooooooo much more but I only had 20kgs baggage allowance 😩😤😆
Tip - whilst out shopping do look out for one of the gorgeous miniature glass bauble Christmas tree ornaments - but pack it well as it needs to be carried in your checked luggage!
The Sunday between Christmas and New Year
Do try the Festive Brunch at the Phoenicia Hotel in Valletta, it’s absolutely scrumptious, you can read all about it here Introducing my favourite foodie hotspots and watering holes on the island of Malta )
New Years Eve
New Years Eve is celebrated but it’s not so big an event as it is here in the UK, as New Years Day is the next public holiday and the next important day in the festive calendar. Some pubs actually close on New Years Eve, so do do your research in advance. Hotels again will be running their own celebratory dinners and Gala dinners, which will include a buffet and live entertainment, but they do come at a price tag, usually ranging from €65-€125 per person depending upon the hotels star rating. If you’d rather be out and about for the bells chiming twelve, theres a pretty impressive firework display in Valletta, drawing crowds from all parts of the island. It’s just in recent years that Valletta has started to put on a bit of a show, there is a stage with live music in St Georges Square, and the Waterfront is pretty lively too. Paceville in St Julians is the place to be if you’d like to dance yourself dizzy 💃🕺 Do bear in mind though that most venues will run ticket in advance events on New Years Eve, so you really need to do your research first.
Tip - Pop into the restaurants nearby and enquire firstly if they are open then secondly which menu they are serving. We ate at the amazing Vecchia Napoli on Tower Road Sliema, it’s Italian, and they served their regular menu with some New Year specials available too. Without any supplements. Then pop into your nearest local bar and go celebrate with the locals, they usually celebrate the Maltese New Year and then the English one too, so you get two New Years for the price of one 😃
New Years Day
The next public holiday is New Years Day, and it’s an extremely busy one. Food and drink feature heavily. Again you will see all generations of families celebrating the start of the New Year in the islands many restaurants and hotels. Special set and buffet menus are offered and again it’s a very dressy affair. The young ones will head off into Paceville in the late afternoon once they have recovered from the festivities of New Years Eve 🥴 🤕 🥳 it’s also a perfect time to start any New Year resolutions, power walking the Sliema/St Julians promenade is very very popular.
Tip - remember to reserve tables in advance for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Years a Day.
Public transport and taxis during the festive period.
Malta is a very walkable island but depending upon the weather or how much festive spirit you’ve enjoyed 😆 you may need to utilise the islands buses or taxi services. First tip and it’s an important one, don’t take any notice of the bus stop timetables, they arrive when they arrive! 😆 I’m eternally sad that the old beautiful Leyland buses were retired, it was a real adventure travelling anywhere on them, and they were just gorgeous inside and out - so very colourful, especially when you saw a bunch of them parked up at the bus terminus in Valletta.
Malta Public Transport operate the islands services now, with a fleet of very modern buses. From Christmas Day to around the 6th of January generally a Saturday service is operated, however on the big day itself buses stop operating around noon until 3pm, resuming again sometime between 3-4pm. They also finish earlier around 9pm.
Taxis are readily available, I would recommend E-Cabs, it’s just like Uber except the price the app quotes you is the exact price you pay, and again you can add your credit card into your account so payment is handled in advance. You receive the drivers details and can track their route too. If you prefer a more personalised service please message me as I have a super guy David that I use who has his own private hire company.
Tip - plan your journey and research ticket options at https://www.publictransport.com.mt
Traditional Maltese Christmas treats to try and savour
Food forms a HUGE part of the Christmas festivities in Malta. Malta has inherited the very British tradition of baking sweet minced pies which are deliciously dusted with icing sugar.
Maltese delicacies include, the good old chocolate “Yule” log, and Treacle Rings Traditional desserts include the famous Christmas log and of course Christmas cake. The Maltese Christmas log, made with lots of chocolate, cherries, nuts, biscuits and a bit of whisky, is traditionally baked for Christmas and eaten throughout the day. Another traditional dessert served at Christmas are Treacle Rings (Qagħqa tal-Għasel), sweet pastry rings filled with a treacle mixture. Literally translated they are ‘honey rings’, but there is absolutely no honey in the recipe.
You can pick up a sweet treat in the oodles of cafes on the island, or traditional Maltese sweet treat stalls across the island, they are very much inexpensive little tastes of heaven.
I very much hope that this guide helps you to either plan your Maltese Christmas or has provided you with some useful hints and tips if you are already booked!
One last tip, how to say Merry Christmas in Maltese!
il-Milied it-tajjeb - pronounced - “ill - mill - EED - itt- TYE - ebb