A traditionally made clay pastur (crib ornament) wearing a face mask and holding a bottle of hand sanitiser has charmed its way into hearts and homes this Christmas, with vendors selling out after a picture of the figure made a splash on social media.

The figure’s maker, Paul Muscat, said that whereas in a typical year he might sell around 50 pieces of each ornament, he has already made and sold about 150 of the COVID-19 prevention figure, with more in demand and on the way.

“Typically, around October, I think about what figuri I’m going to make, and this year I settled on two. One is a woman weaving on a traditional loom (newl) and the other is this man who is taking COVID-19 precautions seriously,” Muscat told Times of Malta.

“As we know, this year COVID-19 has dominated the conversation and I wanted to make something related to that for the crib, to keep raising awareness about the importance of wearing masks and applying hand sanitiser. I came up with this fellow, our COVID-themed figure.”

His family were initially sceptical, but then the figure started to create a bit of a sensation.

“We’ve received quite a bit of demand for him, not even necessarily to be put in the crib either but even to be kept as a souvenir for a very particular year.”

We’ve received quite a bit of demand for him... even to be kept as a souvenir for a very particular year

Muscat and his wife Terry work from their shop in Birkirkara using traditional methods. He makes figures for Neapolitan-style cribs, which starts from the traditional setting in the grotto with the birth of Jesus but expands to include non-biblical figures, often representing traditional ways of life.

He says he tries to create characters that make the crib come to life in a realistic way.

There is a miller blowing a bronja (horn) to let farmers know they can bring their wheat, a sinjura in an għonnella accompanied by a pastas carrying her shopping, a band of daqaqa armed with traditional Maltese instruments, and even a pastizzi vendor.

A single figure may take up to three days to make from mould to hand-painting.

With the advent of plastic figures, demand for traditional clay figures has dropped but Muscat’s creativity and passion to keep the tradition alive have earned him favour among collectors and tourists.

As for the masked figure, “he will only be available this year”.

“I think he looks good right outside the cave, to remind people to take precautions before they go in to see baby Jesus.”

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.