When it comes to Christmas festivities, Malta is – thanks to its many unique customs – a wonderful place to celebrate. There are the Christmas cribs, the traditional dishes, and the colourful festas. And then there are the many performances and concerts in Malta to look forward to. From British-inspired Christmas pantomimes to the Bethlehem Ghajnsielem nativity village to carols courtesy of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, these events cater to visitors seeking a special seasonal experience. (Oh no they don’t) Oh, yes they do!
Traditional live nativity scenes usually involve a handful of participants and a recreated stable. But the nativity village at Bethlehem Ghajnsielem (located five minutes from the Mgarr Harbour in Gozo) ups the scale tremendously. An entire historic village that visitors are encouraged to discover, Bethlehem Ghajnsielem features over 150 costumed actors, farm animals, and an array of traditional architecture and decoration. For an immersive Christmastime performance, few other events can compare.
Malta existed under British rule for more than 160 years, and in case you needed evidence of that – apart from the continuing ubiquity of HP sauce, of course – look no further than the humble panto. One of the most anticipated performances each year, the Christmas pantomimes performed by the Malta Amateur Dramatic Club certainly supplies the requisite amount of song, dance, and rather over-the-top kit. The fact that Treasure Island is this year’s choice dovetails very nicely indeed with the country’s pirate-filled past.
When it comes to Christmas concerts in Malta, the Viennese Night Christmas Gala – sponsored by Malta Art Events – is one of the grandest and most glittering in scope. The annual occasion sees world-class singers, dancers, musicians, and other performers hailing from Vienna appear on the Maltese stage, accompanied by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. Expect plenty of pomp and Christmas spirit.
Seeking traditional Christmas concerts in Malta – perhaps in a candlelit church? Follow the exemplary Malta Philharmonic Orchestra to the baroque splendour of the St George’s Basilica in Victoria, Gozo. Dating to the 17th century, the church is famous for its colourful ceiling frescoes and gilded ornamentation. It should more than make for an atmospheric backdrop for the concert, then, which will see the orchestra perform all the Christmastime classics, from Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to Ave Maria and a number of traditional carols.
For those who never tire of practicing their “He’s behind you!”s, don’t miss the chance to attend your second Maltese panto. The Teatru Manoel in Valletta also performs Christmas pantomimes each year, and will be unleashing their vibrant version of Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood just before the holiday. From Merry Men to evil sheriffs, this should be a family-pleasing affair.
For first-timers, Malta’s village festas are a spectacle indeed. While each honours the unique heritage (and patron saints) of its particular village, you can expect garland-strewn streets, music and performances, and street parties that last well into the wee hours. Though many festas take place during the warmer months, a number of traditional festas are also held over the advent.
Are you an art lover or culture vulture holidaying in Malta? Well, you’ll be pleased to find that this Mediterranean island may be small, but it packs a punch when it comes to art and culture. Here are six recommended destinations to add to your itinerary to experience the best of Malta’s art scene.