Summer in Malta is known for a multitude of things- beaches, concerts, unbearable heat (I’m talking about you, heatwave ‘Lucifer’), but among the locals, summer usually indicates one thing- village festas. They are held on particular dates between the months of May and September. Love them or hate them, they happen; fireworks, festoons, flags, petards, all for the celebration of the village’s patron saint.
Each festa is usually held around the perimeters of the parish church of the village. The streets are decorated with columns, festoons, lights and flags, hung upon the houses that surround the parish church. The food stalls sell traditional Maltese nougat, mqaret (fried date cakes) and those amazingly oily sweet jam donuts “tal-festa”.
Much needed cold beer is passed around from the outside bars found on the edge of the street, and paper mache statues that join the crowds, as hundreds of villagers swarm the area as the festivities begin. The local banda, a village band, competes with the sounds of the fireworks bursting into colourful displays. The band performs local favourites, and everyone sings along, whilst the crowd follows the band around the streets of the village, spreading the cheer.
The local celebrity eventually comes out to meet the crowds- that is, the ginormous statue of the patron saint, that a chosen number of people carry on their backs, whilst the adoring crowd cheers them on. After that, an exhibition of the ġigġifogu, or pinwheels, mesmerizes the crowds, crowning the end of the street festa. After parties are usually held at the local bar, or każin.
Funnily enough, some Maltese festas carry the same name, even though they are held in different villages. This is because different villages sometimes have the same patron saint. This is also where some villagers get competitive with others, constantly bickering about which festa is the most elaborate and spectacular, due to how dedicated and passionate they are about their village feast. In August alone, there are 11 Feasts of the Assumption of our Lady, celebrated in Mqabba (13th-15th of August), Victoria (Gozo) (15th August), Qrendi (15th August), Mosta (15th August), Gudja (15th August), Ħal-Ghaxaq (15th August), Attard (15th August), Ħad-Dingli (15th August), Mġarr (18th August) and Żebbuġ (Gozo) (18th August). There are so many happening within the span of a week, so take your pick!
Some great feasts to follow are the Feast of Stella Maris, which is held in Sliema on the 18th till the 20th of August, the Feast of St, Dominic in Birgu, held on the 25th till the 27th of August, and the Feast of St Julian, held on the 25th till the 27th of August. The festas drag on for three days, therefore, when different festas occur on the same day, it is more than possible to visit a different village festa each day.
In September, the festivities continue. On the 1st of September, until the 4th, Sliema will be celebrating the Feast of St Gregory, whilst Żurrieq will be celebrating the Feast of St. Catherine. It is highly recommended that you visit Mellieħa for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady and “Il- Vitorja”, throughout the week of the 1st of September to the 8th of September, where the two Mellieħa band clubs, the Imperial band club and La Vittoria Philharmonic society, will be marching along the streets of Mellieħa. All the local restaurants are open, shows and parades are held in the streets, and the firework displays across the Mellieħa landscapes are a sight to behold.
Take an opportunity to really integrate with the village locals, and celebrate their most anticipated day of the year with them, as some cherish their village festa more than their actual birthday! It is an experience not to be missed, and integral part of what it really means to be Maltese.