Christmas traditions and customs have become part of our history.The cribs are decorated with figurines, called pasturi (representing figures like the shepherds and angels). Cribs were first introduced in Malta by Italian rich noblemen. Initially they were not popular and most were burnt. At the time communication between villages was scarce and they lived in very poor conditions. So these new trends were very difficult to introduce and so not popular.
First crib in Malta
The first true crib is believed to have been made in Malta in 1617 and was displayed in the Dominican Friars Church monastery in Rabat.
At St. Peter’s Monastery in Mdina there is a crib dating back to 1670. It has been cared and treasured by the Benedictine Nuns who live in this monastery. Around the same time a Maltese man created a crib with moving parts powered by water. The first imported pasturi were from Italy and they were very expensive and the people could not afford them.
Cribs the Maltese style
As cribs became more popular they also started to have more Maltese style architecture and culture. When they became more popular the Maltese people started replacing the Italian style buildings and pasturi from rough clay and plaster to our style architecture and also the trades that were more typical of our country.
Modern pasturi are today made of plastic. When I was young around 1960, they were imported from Italy and then also from Spain. They used to be sore first from Valletta shops. Still at the time the Maltese pasturi made of clay were still very popular. The local pasturi were dressed with Maltese costumes and colours while the others were generically dressed as rural people. They were not breakable and started taking the place of the Maltese ones.
By the early to mid the 20th century, cribs were thought as old fashioned and not very popular anymore.
To stop the decline of Christmas in 1907 a priest called George Preca founded a children’s charity and society called MUSEUM. In 1921 he started a tradition of having a Christmas eve procession with a life size figure of the baby Jesus being carried at the head of the procession. This procession is today still popular and are held in many villages throughout in Malta and Gozo.
Until today the MUSEUM members have built hundreds of cribs for the children that attend first Holy Communion classes at their centres in every village. In this way they succeeded to revive the tradition of the crib and statues of Baby Jesus in the majority of Maltese households.
Today visiting cribs is very popular. Many Maltese enthusiasts work for many months creating their own crib to exhibit in their home or at exhibitions, or taking part in local society activities. Some are very artistic and elaborate. Even at schools many children are thought through craft lessons how to do crib and other Christmas decorations.
Christmas traditions and customs are part of the Maltese people everyday life.