Experience the essence of the Maltese Islands with traditional village feasts
Summertime is party time in Malta. Over most weekends from May to September (and frequently spreading out into the weeks either side) every town and village in Malta will celebrate its own patron saint with a range of unique festivities.
A religious tradition that dates back to the 16th century, each ‘festa’ will see the community coming together in a massive street fayre, with marching bands, fireworks, unique local sweets and cuisine, a procession carrying life-sized statues of their patron saint, and richly hand-painted decorations adorning the parish church as well as every street and road in the locality.
Although there are dozens of festas that will happen this summer in Malta, here are some that you absolutely should not miss.
The festa season in Malta hits its peak in mid-August, with one of the most popular feasts, Santa Marija, taking place annually on the 15th of the month.
Unlike the other festas on the island that usually represent only a single town or village, Santa Marija is celebrated across eight localities in Malta. It is given special significance because this was also a crucial day during the Second World War, when much-needed supplies made it to Malta aboard the vessel ‘Ohio’.
Whilst many locals choose to celebrate the feast of Santa Marija in Gozo, there are also many events across Malta to mark the feast.
Another festa not technically rooted in a specific locality, the Mnarja feast is one of the oldest to be celebrated across Malta and Gozo. On 29th June it jointly commemorates the two saints of St Peter and St Paul, and celebrations are held in Buskett Gardens near Rabat on the eve of the feast.
Its title is derived from the Latin word ‘Luminare’, meaning to light up, and this describes the unique way in which this particular feast is celebrated, with locals burning bonfires and candles to mark the occasion.
Mnarja is not to be confused with the feast of St Peter and St Paul that is celebrated as a traditional village festa in Nadur, Gozo.
San Gorg, Gozo
Whilst Qormi in Malta also celebrates the feast of San Gorg at the end of June, Malta’s sister island of Gozo commemorates the same saint on the 3rd Sunday of July.
On this day, and perhaps a few weeks either side, the capital city of Victoria is festooned with intricate decorations and packed with merrymakers who flock there from villages all across Malta and Gozo.
The San Gorg festa in Gozo is also significant in that it has managed to retain the traditional format of the festa, whilst others have become increasingly modernised over time. This authenticity makes this feast a fascinating glimpse into Maltese history, while it also provides some of the wildest revelry available at any festa on either island.
Celebrated at the end of August, the feast of St Helen originates in the town of Birkirkara, and is one of the most notable of all Malta’s festas due to its sheer size, especially flamboyant street decorations and popular final firework display
The other significant difference that marks the Sant Elena feast is that the main procession (which carries the life-size statue of St Helen through the streets of Birkirkara) takes place in the morning, whilst all other localities throughout Malta and Gozo tend to hold their festa procession in the evening.
If you’re looking for the ultimate “feel-like-a-local” experience, read up on why the Maltese love Pastizzi and Mqaret!