For the ultimate Malta experience, look no further than the traditional Maltese festa.
Every summer, more than 60 festas take place in towns and villages around Malta, with a further 20 happening in Gozo.
These colourful street parties are held to honour the patron saint of the respective town, and celebrations generally include religious processions, brass bands, fireworks, and a whole array of delicious local food and traditional sweet treats.
Beyond being a great opportunity to mingle with the local community, festas have many customs and traditions that offer a peek into the Maltese way of life.
Here’s five things you may not know about Malta’s biggest summer party: the festa.
Festas are a centuries-old tradition
The annual festa tradition dates back to the time of the Knights of St John.
Legend has it that Grandmaster De Rohan, who ruled the order between 1775 and 1797, loved feasts and merrymaking so much, that he encouraged the celebration of church events outside of the church itself.
Over the many years that have followed, these religious street parties have become bigger, louder and more colourful, unifying local communities in celebration of their patron saint.
They take some serious planning
Each town and village in Malta takes its festa celebrations extremely seriously, particularly since there is fierce competition between them when it comes to the size of the decorations and the firework displays.
Most village band clubs, sometimes in collaboration with other members of the parish, will begin organisation of the festa a year before. Yes, that means that no sooner has one year’s festa celebrations wrapped up, then they are already beginning the planning for the next.
There is plenty to plan also – from the giant intricately-embroidered images of the patron saint festooned around the town, which are painstakingly created by the local community over the year, to the design and construction of the fireworks displays.
A festa may last over a week – and may even be held twice
Festa celebrations tend to start around two weeks before the big day, with the time-consuming task of decorating the entire town or village with festa-related adornments, and with church activities such as baptisms or celebratory services. Around 5 days before the festa a brass band will march through the streets, and another ‘Marċ il-Kbir’ (Big March) will usually take place on the day before.
The day of the festa then brings to the peak all the preparations, with a march in the morning, and a procession through the town of the statue of the patron saint, as well as fireworks, drinking and merriment.
What’s more, some villages containing multiple parishes with celebrate two patron saints – and so will have two separate festas on different days – while multiple villages might even celebrate the same patron saint.
The fireworks displays are crowdfunded
Every household or business in the locality traditionally contributes towards the funding needed for the festa fireworks.
Everyone in the town then takes great pride in these incredible displays, and rightly so – there are pyrotechnics and colourful Catherine wheels usually erected around the church, while petards are regularly set off to announce the occasion.
Eat, drink and be merry
Along with the bands and the fireworks, no festa is complete without an abundance of food of every variety.
As well as countless food stalls selling a variety of hot food items from hamburgers to hot dogs, it’s the traditional sweets that are the real crowd-pleasers. Make sure to sample the local ‘imqaret’ (date-filled deep-fried pastries), sticks of nougat, ring doughnuts, granitas and ice-creams.
There are also alcoholic and soft drinks available from every bar and café, which will open late into the night for the occasion, so there’s every opportunity to party with the locals in this ultimate summer celebration.