Malta has more to offer than just sun, sand and sea. There are a lot of traditional festas and fireworks, which attract tourists from all over the world.
A Maltese ‘festa’ is a religious celebration organised by each local parish to celebrate their respective patron saint. It is a typical scene in the hot summer months on the island, and very much an iconic part of the culture in Malta. The majority of festas are held between the months of May and September. A burst of colour, music and bright fireworks illuminate the Maltese summer nights, providing tourists with a most memorable experience.
Every village has at least one patron saint, and this serves as the basis for the village feast. At the appointed time of the year, that village will decorate the streets with statues and banners dedicated to the saint, and throughout the entire week, locals and tourists are welcome to experience celebrations with food, drink and music. The feast consists of one week of celebrations by the local community.
Food stalls line the streets, serving everything from pizza to traditional Maltese food, including ‘mqaret’ – deep fried date cakes. Another artisan treat is nougat. You’ll find many selling this favourite treat, known as ‘qubbajt’ in Maltese.
Band marches are an integral part of the celebration. A local band performs festa favourites, many of which will be composed by local maestros. As they march through the streets and towards the church, the crowds often follow behind.
The ceremonial highlight of any festa is the carrying of the statue. Festa devotees bid for the privilege of hoisting the statue out of the church and onto a prominent place in the village square. This is usually accompanied by a roaring crowd cheering them on. It is an exhausting exercise which upholds a tradition that goes back generations.
If the carrying of the statue is a ceremonial highlight, another favourite is the firework displays. Malta is well known for its pyrotechnic ability, and nowhere is this better showcased than the village feast. The shows normally involve murtali, which are petards that make an exceptionally loud bang when airborne, colourful fireworks that light up the night sky, and ‘ġigġifogu’ or pinwheels – elaborate structures that produce dazzling spinning displays of sound and colour.
The Feast of Santa Maria, or the Assumption of Our Lady to Heaven, is probably Malta’s most celebrated Festa, as it is celebrated in the peak of summer where most companies take a week off for their holidays, similar to the Italian’s Ferragosto period. Santa Maria is celebrated on 15th August, which is also a national public holiday in 7 towns and villages across Malta and Gozo. Each village puts on an excellent display of traditional Maltese fireworks and a festa atmosphere prevails. The towns that celebrate the Feast of the Assumption are: Hal Għaxaq, Gudja, Attard, Mosta, Mqabba, Qrendi and Victoria. Traditionally, the village of Mqabba holds wonderful firework displays, which are synchronised with a music celebration in the feast of Santa Maria.
Each year the Ministry for Tourism and the Malta Tourism Authority organise a Malta International Fireworks Festival. Year after year the festival is a guaranteed time of excitement for locals and tourists, as well as the fireworks factories around the island that get the chance to show off their skills with brighter performances than ever. A lot of international pyrotechnic companies participate in the event. Each year there are more and more participants from countries such as Italy, and even as far away as Australia.