Christmas time holds a special place in Malta, among most of the Maltese people’s hearts. It’s a time of festive cheer, gift giving and celebrations.
In this article I will cover:
- What to expect when you visit Malta around Christmas time
- What the weather’s generally like at that time of year
- How the Maltese celebrate Christmas and what their traditions are
- What activities you can find at this time of year
- Where best to stay
- Where to celebrate New Year’s Eve
What is the weather like around Christmas?
I’m sure you’ve heard that Maltese winters are very mild, and the weather around Christmas often means lots of sunshine with clear blue skies. That’s not a guarantee though. Malta does have its fair share of dreary, cold and rainy days, especially during December (normally being the wettest month of the year), so it’s hard to predict what the weather might be like. The best advice is to consult the weather forecast in the days before you head to Malta.
The average temperatures for December range between 16 to 20 degrees Celsius, although with the high humidity it can feel a lot colder than you’d think, especially in the evening and during the night. The trick when it comes to clothes is to choose lighter clothes that you can layer. A windproof jacket and umbrella are likely to come in handy either way, though.
What is Malta like during Christmas time?
Being a largely Roman Catholic nation, the religious influence and tradition is obvious in the Maltese Islands during the holiday season. Christmas is celebrated with a lot of decoration, festive activities and events, and more spiritual practices and rituals all over Malta and Gozo.
Generally speaking, the Maltese love Christmas time. Although the country is generally more quiet during the winter months (as compared to the summer time), December does tend to bring with it a festive and cheerful, even spiritual vibe.
Parish churches hold Christmas concerts, hand made nativity exhibitions (some are really impressive!) and plays as well as fund raising markets and fairs, and it’s generally a bright and very pleasant atmosphere.
Everyone’s busy getting their Christmas gift shopping done, which means most of the shops stay open late, and open on Sundays, to cater for the increased festive demand. Restaurants and clubs are also busier during this time of the year due to increased company staff parties and celebrations. Most village streets are decorated with Christmas lights and decorations, while some even blare out cheesy Christmas tunes on loud speakers through their main roads.
Most Maltese houses are decorated with traditional cribs/nativity scenes with pasturi (small plastic or clay figurines representing nativity figures like the shepherds, wise men and angels). Statues of the baby Jesus are placed behind windows or in balconies and lit at night. Houses are also decorated with the usual Christmas wreaths, candles and all sorts of other festive lights and decorations. Almost every household has a traditionally decorated Christmas tree; sparkling lights, tinsel and all.
Valletta and Sliema are definitely the most festive cities on the islands, with dazzling Christmas lights and decorations adorning the streets, lots of Christmas carolling and street performances and ample Christmas themed activities taking place. If you want to get some Christmas shopping done, this is the place to be. Be warned though, it can get pretty busy, especially in the area around Sliema and St. Julian’s, with lots of traffic congestion and battles for public parking spaces. (That’s an everyday problem when driving in Malta, it just intensifies during the holidays).
How busy is Malta during the Christmas period?
Even though the winter months are considered to be ‘low’ tourist season in Malta Christmas and New Year are often fairly busy. Hotels do tend to hike up their prices, especially during the actual Christmas and New Year week, but rates are often still much cheaper when compared to the high season. Availability for accommodation is rarely a problem, although it is always advisable to reserve a room in a hotel before actually visiting the island to avoid disappointment.
If you’re dining out during your Christmas trip in Malta, however, always make sure to make a reservation in advance, particularly in Valletta and Sliema/St. Julian’s. Even though a lot of Maltese families choose to spend their Christmas lunches at home, a lot of catering establishments are still very busy on Christmas day, while some restaurants choose not to open for Christmas lunch.
Need a few ideas of what restaurants to dine at? Have a look at these articles:
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Must Dos during the Christmas Season
- Visit Valletta to see Malta’s capital at its finest. Dazzling Christmas lights and decorations, candle-lit carolling in baroque churches, open air concerts and lots of festive cheer. Christmas here is a unique experience. Visiting Valletta on Christmas Eve would also give you an opportunity to attend the special candle lit Christmas mass in St. John’s Co-Cathedral.
- The “Living Crib” in Ghajnsielem (8th December – 2nd January), Gozo is very popular amongst the locals during the Christmas season. Just a short ferry ride away from Malta, the 20,000 square meter “Betlehem f’Ghajnsielem” is only a ten minute (uphill) walk from the Gozo Channel ferry terminal, making it very easily accessible, even without the use of a car. It really is quite an impressive exhibit with a fully functional temporary village set up, showing actors and craftsmen performing various trades of the time, live domestic animals, stalls selling traditional crafts, gifts and food, and even housing a small inn for a few lucky guests to stay in. The main attraction of course is a live little baby Jesus in his manger, being watched over by Mary and Joseph, and maybe even a donkey and some sheep!
- Christmas pantomimes – a much loved tradition amongst most Maltese families is to attend a Christmas pantomime, a perfect mix of slapstick humour, and political satire alike. The most popular performances are held at the beautiful and very regal Manoel Theatre in Valletta, but various localities all over Malta and Gozo host similar events.
- Christmas markets – Christmas markets are becoming ever the more popular in Malta, with the Malta Artisan Markets group offering the largest Christmas themed craft market on the island. The venue is different every year so best keep on eye on their website should you wish to get some unique Christmas gifts from there. The Pjazza Tigne Market in Sliema is also set up for the festive season and is always quite busy during the holidays. Mellieħa’s famous Popeye Village is converted into a wonderful winter wonderland during the month of December, making it a great treat for the kids, and most local councils organize smaller village Christmas Markets, for locals and visitors to enjoy.
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New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Malta
Whilst Christmas time is usually a more intimately celebrated occasion on the islands, the New Year’s Eve festivities are more enjoyed publicly and include clubbing, street parties and fireworks!
Many locals spend New Year’s Eve celebrating in Valletta or the neighbouring town of Floriana, both of which usually host large street parties, with free admission. The party is usually closed by a huge pyrotechnic display at the stroke of midnight in Valletta. St George’s Square, the Valletta Waterfront and St. Anne’s Street in Floriana are popular gathering points and the best locations for locals and foreigners alike to come together to celebrate the count down.
St. Julian’s and Paceville are also extremely popular venues, especially with the younger generation who choose to celebrate by club-hopping their way through Paceville, the islands’ densest clubbing and bar district. Be careful though, most events and parties on New Year’s Eve are ticketed and prone to selling out in advance, so be sure to do your research before making any plans.
Expect all the above to be heavily crowded. So if you are planning on visiting any of these events, please make sure to keep an eye on your belongings. Pick pocketing is fairly common in large parties such as these, so make sure your valuables are well secured and carry the least objects you can. Traffic and parking are also a big issue on New Year’s Eve and I would not suggest driving to any of the events mentioned above. Public Transport times are usually extended to cater for larger crowds and later transit times at Valletta, so I would highly suggest taking the bus if celebrating in Valletta and Floriana, or booking a taxi if clubbing in Paceville.
New Year’s Day traditionally involves a large family lunch, followed by coffee and traditional festive sweets. Locals often choose to eat out for the occasion with most establishments offering set menus with pre-booking. If you are planning on being in Malta on New Year’s Day expect the streets to be relatively quiet in the morning, as most like to sleep in, or nurse a hangover before lunch. If the weather is sunny, lots of families like to enjoy the countryside afterwards, opting for a walk in Buskett, Dingli, Mellieħa, or the silent city of Mdina, before heading back home for an early evening. Youngsters, often head towards Paceville again during late afternoon to enjoy the clubs and bars on the first day of the new year.
How do the Maltese celebrate Christmas?
Christmas is a very special time of the year for most, with even the less traditional families choosing to attend the Midnight Mass Service on Christmas Eve, as part of their religious celebrations.
All churches are decorated with lights and elaborate nativity cribs, il-Presepju in Maltese, featuring figures from the nativity story. The figure of the baby Jesus is often put on the main altar at midnight on Christmas night and a young boy or a girl, does the preaching of the sermon at the midnight mass instead of the priest, telling the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The most dramatic ceremony is held in Valletta, at the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, often accompanied by candle lit carolling. A common practice amongst locals is to attend the midnight mass, then head over to a luxury hotel and enjoy an early 01.00am Christmas breakfast!
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are spent with family and close friends where small, intimate gatherings are most often preferred to spending the night out. A lot of the youngsters still gravitate towards St. Julian’s, Paceville and Valletta for some festive partying, but the scene is generally more family oriented during the holidays.
Christmas lunch is always a big deal with the Maltese, who are well known for their love of food. In the past, Christmas tradition decreed that the Maltese housewife would buy a large rooster for Christmas Lunch which she would then take to the local baker to have roasted in a casserole full of potatoes and vegetables. Today, roast turkey (a result of British influence) is often served on Christmas day, followed by a variety of dessert options, traditional and contemporary alike.
Traditional sweets served at Christmas include the popular Maltese treacle ring, Qagħaq tal-għasel, followed by a hot chestnut and cocoa soup, Imbuljuta tal-Qastan. Almond macaroons and Imqaret (date filled pastries), as well as bread pudding and Christmas cake are also commonly prepared during the Christmas season. Although not Maltese (Italian, in fact), you’ll find panettone (sweet loaf bread, often with chocolate and other sugary goodness) pretty much everywhere. Probably more so than any other Maltese sweet.
My tips for Christmas and New Year’s
Hotels and Accommodation
Accommodation in Malta and Gozo during the holidays in more crowded when compared to other winter months, and rates higher. If you are planning on staying in Malta during Christmas and the New Year, make sure to book your stay ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
If you’re looking for a quiet atmosphere, head North towards Mellieħa, or even further away from the hustle and bustle to the island of Gozo. Here you’ll find a more serene atmosphere, with quiet beaches and some great countryside and sea views to explore. You’ll still get some activity close by, in the village squares, but it’s still very peaceful compared to the more central part of the island. Gozo is especially quiet, with not much to do for the night life lovers.
If you’re more of a night owl Sliema, St. Julian’s and Valletta are the places to look in to! Hotel rates are pricier here, as these are the more popular localities to stay in, but booking a room here would mean being in walking distance of lots of activity, festive or otherwise. Sliema and Valletta get very busy during the holidays, they are Malta’s shopping and entertainment hubs, so expect crowds and traffic. Most hotels in Sliema and St. Julian’s do offer comfortable parking options but parking in Valletta could prove to be more difficult as the city has parking limitations due to its historic status.
More info and my recommendations for accommodation in these localities:
- Best Valletta hotels, apartments and other accommodation
- Sliema Accommodation: The Best Hotels, Apartments and more
- St. Julian’s Accommodation: The Best Hotels, Apartments and more
Shopping and Entertainment
Head towards Sliema and Valletta to get any last minute Christmas shopping done! Shops are usually open until Christmas Eve afternoon, with most opting to close up a bit earlier on the day. Supermarkets and groceries also usually close early afternoon on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Day most shops will close their doors, while the larger shopping areas in Valletta and Sliema open on Boxing Day, as long as it’s not a Sunday.
Museums and most tourist attractions are also closed on December 24, 25 and 31, as well as the 1st of January.
Public Transport on Christmas and New Years
There are extended bus services on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, especially on the St. Julian’s/Paceville and Valletta routes. Public Transport is also usually available, on reduced service times during Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere though, the most reliable (although pricier) option would be to get a taxi.