In its 9th year, Bethlehem in Għajnsielem is a Christmas attraction that at some point or other has been visited by all the Maltese population and thousands of foreign visitors. But away from our shores, it has captivated the world’s attention as an authentic and passionate representation of the nativity story that captures the imagination and can be experienced on many levels at different times of the day. In its 9th year, Bethlehem in Għajnsielem is a Christmas attraction that at some point or other has been visited by all the Maltese population and thousands of foreign visitors. But away from our shores, it has captivated the world’s attention as an authentic and passionate representation of the nativity story that captures the imagination and can be experienced on many levels at different times of the day.
VisitGozo.com caught up with Mr Franco Ciangura, the mastermind behind this attraction. Here are some curious facts that not everyone might know!
1. Set on the fields know as Ta’ Passi, just off the church of Għajnsielem in Gozo, the area itself with the plateau set on top of a deep ravine, seems to have been carved out just to make sure that this nativity representation is charming and picturesque. Where nature lacked, the team of Bethlehem in Għajnsielem took over, ensuring that a stream and even a lake complete the setting!
2. The attraction which was launched in 2008 immediately became the talk of the islands and every year, new additions, features and ideas are roped in to keep it exciting whilst preserving the rural authenticity that many people love about it. One key example is the 30-metre suspended rope bridge.
3. Over the years, more than 110 babies have participated as the new-born babe in the manager, with parents, taking turns to stand in Mary and Joseph’s shoes. The very first babies are now 8 and 9 years old and some still participate as Bethlehem’s children that run around as shepherd boys and girls.
4. A staggering number of participants and a total of volunteers are needed to have such an attraction ongoing for so many days during the Christmas season. In fact, Bethlehem in Għajnsielem brings together over 150 volunteering actors. Some other 60 volunteers are needed to support the attraction in terms of maintenance, security aspects, an ERRC team with full equipped clinic, animal keepers and handlers, watchmen, electricians, ushers and others.
5. Numerous trades are present at Bethlehem in Għajnsielem. From the baker, the blacksmith, the carpenter, the farmer, the fishermen to the traditional wool spinners, lace-makers, weavers, mosaic-maker, and naturally the shepherds they’re all present. A mini-attraction within itself is Mr Pawlu Muscat, the only remaining artist on the island that still carves out crib figurines (pasture) out of clay in the traditional Maltese style.
6. As for the animals, these are brought to the show three days before the opening and they are kept the whole month together on location. This means having veterinary approvals and enough animal keepers that take care of approximately 25 animal stables and sheds.
7. Bethlehem in Għajnsielem is also about going back to nature. In a strive to be as eco-friendly as possible, the volunteers that are in charge salvage material and recycle material such as pallets in setting up the scene. Over 5500 wooden pellets, more than 4 tonnes of wood that originate as glass packaging and yet another 3 tonnes of recycled wood have been used over the years. On top of all this, Bethlehem in Għajnsielem had the honour of using props from the films Gladiator and Agora and it sports a fountain that was used in the film By the Sea.
8. Two thousand years ago, Bethlehem had its inn. Bethlehem in Għajnsielem does too. Anyone can book a room for a night or two and enjoy the unique experience of a back-to-basics facilities comprised of fireplace and a jug of water. If you’re interested, make sure you find a costume to join in.
9. The wise men that arrive at Bethlehem for the attraction’s Gran Finale is a journey that culminates on Epiphany, which also brings to an end the season. The wise men have arrived from various places in Europe. So far the wise men have arrived from places like from Adonae, Cologne, Tolfa, Ruma, Revine Lago, Canale, Lanuvio, San Polo dei Calvaleri and Greccio where they usually also participate in live nativity scenes. At these departure points, the team behind Bethlehem in Għajnsielem usually visits hospitals, old people’s homes and children’s home to bring Christmas cheer and deliver a message of peace.
Last year alone Bethlehem in Għajnsielem was visited by over 100,000 persons. The nativity crib has been visited by a variety of prominent people amongst them a delegation from the actual town of Bethlehem. For Mr Ciangura, Bethlehem in Għajnsielem is a dream come true. Along with his team, he strives to improve it every year. His final comment was one of profuse thanks to all those who helped achieve this unique dream and make it a success from year to year!
With special thanks to Mr Franco Ciangura.