In most Southeast European countries, Christmas is one of the most important holidays of the year, except for Bosnia, Albania and Herzegovina. The festive season of other countries commences from 6th December, which is the feast of St. Nicholas, and ends two to three days after Christmas. In most countries, it is a tradition to give gifts such as candies, cookies, toys, etc. to children on this day. Earlier, it was not a tradition in Southeast European countries to exchange gifts but these days, it has become a custom. In countries like Malta and Turkey, the tradition differs, as in Malta, Christmas cribs, midnight mass and the celebration of Christmas Eve is very crucial, whereas in Turkey, people celebrate the birthday of Saint Nicholas and the time of the festivities begins from 6th December and lasts till 25th December. Go through the article to know more about the Christmas customs and practices in these countries.
Maltese Christmas Customs
The Island of Malta follows the customary timeline of celebrating Christmas but there are a few practices which make it different from others. Malta celebrates this festive season by decorating the town with Christmas cribs, also known as nativity scenes, which are embellished with clay images of infant Jesus, Our Lady, St. Joseph, shepherds, sheep, the Three Kings and street singers. In Malta, these figures are known as 'Pasturi'. Other statues are also placed in the crib like 'taz-zaqq' (the bagpipe player), 'tat-tanbur' (the hand drummer) and 'taz-zavzava' or 'tar-rabbaba' (the friction drum player), which represents the Maltese culture.
Decorating Christmas cribs is one of the most famous and important traditions of Malta and Gozo. The big crib is known as 'il-presepju', which is set in churches, youth centers, hospitals and homes. There is another crib called 'il-gotta', in which there is only small child with tiny effigies. People decorate these cribs with lights and other decorative items and these are then taken in processions where children holding small effigies of Jesus sing carols and spread the joy of Christmas. It was in 1826 when this practice was started and the first known crib was made by the Benedictine Nuns.
Like many other countries, Christmas in south-east Europe is celebrated on 25th December and the highlight of the occasion is the Christmas feast. The common platter for Christmas comprises of turkey served with vegetables and potatoes, minced pies, Christmas pudding, timpana, i.e. baked macaroni covered with crusty pastry, and other traditional cuisine. The specialty of this place is the 'Qaghaq ta' l-Ghasel' or Honey Rings which are served as a dessert during the cheerful time of Christmas.
Christmas Traditions In Turkey
It is believed that St. Nicholas was born in Patara, Turkey, and that he was a famous bishop who was very kind to children. His birthday is celebrated every year with a three-day festival that continues till Christmas. The Christmas feast is one of the most important events of the celebration. Rice and rice based items are served at the feast. It is said that the Christmas Eve in Turkey is incomplete without a game of Lotto, which is a traditional game of the Turks. Also, people buy lottery as they believe that Christmas brings boat-loads of luck with it. The tradition of decorating the Christmas trees isn't very popular in this part of the world but some people, nowadays, are doing it zealously.
Read about Christmas and its traditions in Turkey and Southeast Europe and Maltese Christmas customs.