When visiting a new place, nothing beats mixing with the locals, and the Malta village festa is about as local as it gets. In Malta, the festa season begins in late May and lasts through the summer and into September, with a series of prolonged weekends. During this period, there is scarcely a weekend that goes by when a city, town, or hamlet does not celebrate the feast of its Patron Saint.
Words by Charlon Muscat | Extract taken from August's 2022 Il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here
The town's central streets where the festival is taking place are festooned with flags, sculptures, and all sorts of decorations. The residents of the town then contribute to the celebratory spirit by adorning their private porches and balconies with lit-up icicle lights, all colored accordingly. Each festa will have its own associated with it, such as the green of Ħaż-Żabbar, the red of Ħamrun, and the blue of Gozo's Xagħra.
The practice of holding a yearly festa celebration may be traced all the way back to the period of the Knights of St John. It is said that Grandmaster De Rohan, who governed the order between the years 1775 and 1797, promoted the celebration of church ceremonies outside of the actual church building since he enjoyed feasting so much. As years went by, things only got better!
In the past, the festa was one of the rare chances the villagers had to see a live musical performance. During the last three days leading up to festa, locals flocked to their parishes to witness sermons and listen to village bands sing psalms.
In the town square, people gathered around a massive bonfire for some lighthearted fun. Fjakkoli were used to light up the streets, which were then nailed to the roofs, balconies, and façades. Nowadays, fireworks are what mainly illuminates the streets and skies throughout the week, becoming a highly integral feature of the Maltese festas. During the peak summer months, as many as three festivals take place on the same weekend, making these light and sound shows visible and audible from every corner of the island.
The festa celebration in each village requires extensive planning and preparation. The locals are responsible for coordinating everything, including the colourful street embroideries, flags, festoons, fireworks, interior church decorations, street parties, and anything else that needs to be done in the run-up to each and every feast. Everything is done on a voluntary basis, and preparations begin many months in advance. In most cases, a committee will be in charge of delegating the work among the volunteers in an equitable manner, taking into account each person's particular areas of interest.
A schedule of events
The actual day of the majority of village festas will be on a Sunday; however, celebrations will begin approximately one week in advance. The town or village celebrating its patron saint will, in conjunction with the local council, organise a number of events in the days leading up to the big day. These events will include processions, street parties, barbecues, activities, animal shows (il-fiera), firework displays, and much more. In most cases, each town will publish a comprehensive schedule of events, which can be viewed on the parish's Facebook page or obtained from the parish.
Things to feast your eyes on
Food stalls line up the streets of the village or town with typical Maltese cuisine while brass bands begin their musical performance. No one should be left out of the opportunity to enjoy some pastizzi, a traditional pastry filled with either mashed peas or cheese. Another festa favourite are the imqaret, - an Arab-inspired snack made with dates, citrus fruit, and spices encased in a pastry and then deep-fried. Plenty more food is on display, such as the massively popular Maltese-style doughnut stand, qubbajt, burgers, hotdogs, candyfloss, bigilla, and much more!
The Marċ tal-Ħdax celebration is a must for those who enjoy a bit of a party atmosphere. This happens on the actual day of the feast and kicks off in the morning. Local bands go around the village playing cheerful music, with huge flocks of people all dressed up for the occasion dancing around and often throwing water balloons of water at one another. It is impressive what mixtures certain people can come up with.
For those looking to blend in, a festa-themed shirt (usually available from the respective parish church or band club) would go a long way for anyone wanting to join the party. You'll be treated like a local - take our word for it!
Ground-based fireworks known locally as ġigġifogu create a spectacle where a variety of revolving ground spinners blast fireworks from the sides or form complicated shapes and patterns utilising the rotational force of pyrotechnics.
The enthusiasm and creativity are stoked by the friendly competition among the locals from different parishes to put on the finest possible fireworks’ show during the village feast. Most of the time, these locally licensed fireworks’ factories must raise their own funds, either through the assistance of locals or through the sale of their products to other towns across the islands.