WASHINGTON — Crafting handmade Nativity scenes that reflect life on the island nations of Malta and Gozo is a centuries-old tradition in Maltese culture.
Set in elaborate landscapes, these Nativity scenes are called “cribs,” and they are displayed in homes, in churches and outdoors at Christmastime. The earliest known Maltese Nativity was built at the Dominican Friars Church in Rabat, Malta, in 1617, and the Nativity-building tradition in Malta began to flourish during the 1800s and early 1900s.
Last year, in partnership with the Museum of the Bible, the Republic of Malta sponsored a crib-decorating contest for artists from the islands of Malta and Gozo. The top 10 entries were displayed in the museum and guests voted for their favorites. The winning crib was designed by Adrian Gatt and Raymond Zammit, with figures by Jesmond Micallef. Their Nativity scene is set in a Maltese house partly demolished during World War II. Around the scene, musicians play traditional Maltese instruments, while a woman in traditional dress (għonella) walks with her daughter.
From Saturday, Nov. 13, through Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, the museum will exhibit the 10 winning Nativities so guests can view these intricately sculpted works of art, some of which are over seven feet in diameter. On Sunday, Nov. 14, the museum will host a special delegation from the nation of Malta as part of the formal opening of the “Christmas in Malta” exhibition. Honorable Dr. José A. Herrera, minister for national heritage, arts and local government; His Excellency Keith Azzopardi, ambassador of Malta to the United States of America; and Mario Azzopardi, director, writer and producer, will be in attendance and will offer remarks from 3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“We are thrilled to bring back Malta’s unique Christmas tradition of crafting and displaying these beautiful Nativity cribs for the second year,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kloha, chief curatorial officer for Museum of the Bible. “We are grateful to Honorable Minister Herrera, Ambassador Azzopardi and Mr. Mario Azzopardi for making it possible to share this historic holiday tradition with museum guests.”
“Christmas in Malta” will be on display on Floor B1 of the museum through Feb. 28. The exhibition is included with the price of admission.