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The Maltese Village Festa: A Tradition Continued
Malta Festa – Summer has officially begun on the Maltese islands! Regular festivities are being celebrated in virtually every town with banners, religious relics and statues lining the streets in elaborate, traditional fashion. From one week to the next expect to be greeted by high-spirited locals who appear content in a somewhat circus-like environment and where fireworks bombard the scene as if taking the level of already tumultuous activity to new heights. How to choose which festa to go to? If you haven’t already found yourself caught up in a town where the usual flow of traffic has been temporarily disrupted and the village church is lit brighter than an outdoor Christmas spectacle, then you could be in for a treat or just the opposite!
There are 60 festas that go on throughout the summer in Malta and Gozo, so chances are you’ll experience one if you wanted to and sometimes even if you weren’t looking! What should you expect from a village festa? Why fireworks of course, a band and procession as the main events, yet sidelining these are the street vendors busily carting around stalls selling anything from oil-drenched doughnuts and traditional nougat, to flying toys and luminescent glow sticks which, in all likelihood have been set to lure unsuspecting tourists of an approaching island rocking, party-popping bonanza!
The feast to watch out for, possibly over any other is that of Santa Maria where the occasion of the assumption of our lady into heaven is celebrated in true celebratory spirit on the 15th of August in both Malta and Gozo. The event is hosted in several localities or seven parishes also known in Maltese as “the Seba Santa Marijiet” which, if you’re planning to visit are: Ghaxaq, Gudja, H’Attard, Mosta, Mqabba and Qrendi in Malta and Victoria in Gozo. Already preparations are underway for the grandest occasion of the summer and quite possibly the year! Central to these festivities are the churches which for years have had the faithful congregating after seemingly austere processions through village streets yet these have since died down over the years with the heavy increase of traffic. Still today, however, some marches go on to honour this sacred feast where the Virgin Mary was taken into heaven at the moment of her passing and is seen as a symbol of hope for most Christians.
It’s also worth noting that the feast of Santa Maria in Malta holds important links with the Second World War and for this reason was made ever more prominent. On the night of the 14th of August 1942, the convoy SS Ohio- an American built ship belonging to a British naval fleet known as operation Pedestal, limped to shore after falling target to fierce, enemy aircraft bombing. The tanker was one of only five surviving vessels to make it out of fifteen and carried food and much-needed supplies to the Maltese people. This so-called “miracle ship” became associated with the feast of Santa Maria since it told a tale of struggle, desperation and ultimately the survival of a country which lay helpless and on the brink of surrender.
Fast forward to the present year and the bombing and explosions from war-time activity have been replaced by fireworks and a full-blown celebratory atmosphere spreading through clear skies and above calm, sun-kissed waters. It is a truth which should be remembered: the Maltese people have fought long and hard for their country before finally conquering over adversity and through their struggles have opened up the nation to a tradition of joyous festivities, while keeping the consciousness of the past alive and relevant.
Written by Julia Perry
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