It’s not unusual to see nativity scenes at Christmas time but on Gozo we like to go the extra mile. If you’re visiting Gozo around Christmas – and we can recommend that you do – not only will you see traditional nativity scenes (presepju) proudly displayed everywhere you look, but we also have something rather magical.
In fact, in 2017 the American TV network CNN placed Malta and Gozo as the top destination to spend a Christmas holiday because of our love of nativity scenes and our secret ingredient – a live nativity performed over several weeks.
Called Bethlehem in Għajnsielem, this unique spectacle was started in 2008 and now attracts around 100,000 visitors from all over the world during the festive season. Children and adults alike are fascinated by this trip back in time.
In 2019, Bethlehem in Għajnsielem opened on 13 December and will end on Sunday 5 January 2020. It is open throughout that period but will only feature live action on some of the days. You can check dates and times on the website ghajnsielem.com. Entrance is free and everyone is welcome.
The greatest story ever told ...
The project is the brainchild of Mr Franco Ciangura who works with the assistance of many local volunteers with the support of Għajnsielem Local Council and the Gozo Ministry.
Its aim is to recreate the atmosphere and locality of Bethlehem as it was 2,000 years ago and let visitors experience the real spirit of Christmas.
The village is easy to find as it is built on around 20,000 square metres of fields at Ta’ Passi near Għajnsielem’s main square and just 10 minutes walk from Gozo’s main harbour at Mġarr.
It takes a lot of effort and hard work to create the village as it includes many different working attractions. Around 150 local people take turns to ‘act’ out their roles here. You'll see local people dressed in biblical-era clothing living out their lives as families and tradesmen.
There are also many farm animals, horses, and goats. And during your visit there are opportunities to watch various events and for children to get some ‘hands-on’ experiences of local crafts.
Blacksmith at Bethlehem f'Għajnsielem. Photo credit: Għajnsielem.com
Here are some of the attractions you can expect to see and experience during your visit:
- A bakery, where you can watch traditional Maltese bread being made.
- A carpenter’s workshop, where local craftsmen ply their trade.
- A blacksmith’s forge, complete with fire and anvil.
- An open-air market offering local produce for sale.
- A tavern – The Bethlehem Inn – where you can enjoy local food and wine.
- Local crafts and folklore.
- A farmhouse that offers a panoramic view from its roof.
- A room of scents.
- A garrison of Roman soldiers – who patrol the streets to collect taxes and take the census.
- A traditional Maltese boat, which can take you across the river.
- Horses pulling grindstones to mill grain.
- Shepherds in their caves and with their flocks.
Of course, the main highlight of a visit to Bethlehem in Għajnsielem is the ‘Grotto’ where Mary and Joseph tend to their new-born baby boy Jesus in a manger, watched by a donkey and a cow.
The live nativity at Bethlehem in Għajnsielem, Gozo. Photo credit: Ghajnsielem.com
The Three Wise Men
The finale of the performance takes place on the closing day – Sunday 5 January 2020. Traditionally this is Epiphany, or twelfth night, and marks the adoration of the magi, when the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus.
As in the Bible, so it is on Gozo. Three men dressed as the three kings will take the ferry from Malta to Gozo on the afternoon of Sunday 5 January 2020. They will then travel on horseback to Għajnsielem. This is a great event and very popular so be sure to arrive early to take it all in.
The Three Wise Men arrive on Gozo. Photo Credit: Independent.com.mt
A visit to Gozo’s unique live nativity at Christmas is an absolute must – don’t forget to add it to your travel bucket list.
Merry Christmas everyone!
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Baron Holiday Homes is happy to organise car hire, tours of Gozo, and special activities for our guests. Just get in touch and we'll tell you all you need to know about walks near to your rental property, special events in villages nearby, and other local information.
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