According to legend, St Francis of Assisi organised the first living Christmas crib in the Italian comune of Greccio in 1223, making 2023 the 800th anniversary. Since then, the crib has become an integral part of the Catholic way of celebrating Christmas, especially here in Malta, where every year there are dozens of crib exhibitions held across towns and villages.
Now, to mark this momentous occasion in the history of the much-loved Christmas tradition, Heritage Malta has issued a set of handmade clay figurines that’s limited to just 100 worldwide.
Each Maltese Christmas Crib set is comprised of 15 clay figurines, including the Holy Family, and plenty of Maltese crib characters. These include the xabbatur, who peers over the top of the grotto to see the Baby Jesus; the għaġeb, who is struck with awe; the rieqed, who sleeps through the whole event; and an abbati ready to deliver the traditional Christmas Surmon.
Created for Heritage Malta by Pawlu Muscat and Terry Muscat Chircop, who run their own shop specialising in clay figurines in Birkirkara, the characters in this set can be seen wearing traditional Maltese clothing. In fact, apart from the the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, who don conventional Biblical costumes, the rest of the characters sport items of clothing like the milsa, the terħa, the kabozza, the ċulqana, and the tgeżwira. Even the donkey and the cow have been painted in colours that are reminiscent of Maltese breeds.
Anyone purchasing one of the 100 sets, which retail for €120 plus postage, will also receive a hardback copy of Christus Natus Est, a photographic essay commemorating 800 years from the first Christmas Crib. For more information on the Maltese Christmas Crib set, visit Heritage Malta’s official site.