Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Santa Maria, Malta's top public holiday

Santa Maria, on 15 August is the day for you if you love festas, food, colour and joyous noise all meshed up in a panoply of fireworks and revelry. However, those not so festa friendly, may say ‘save us from Santa Maria’!

Malta is always colourful but in summer we do go ballistic especially in commemoration of village and town patron saints. Seeing the revelry that goes on during the festa band marches, it’s hard to remember that these feasts are to commemorate people who probably led an austere or merit-worthy life of good deeds.

For a glorious day of feasts nothing beats August 15. In Malta and Gozo the day is known as Santa Maria (or Santa Marija, its Maltese spelling); it’s also a public holiday. There are seven localities which hold a festa that day. Celebrations are held in style and with pizzazz in piazzas. The day is in commemoration of the ascension of Our Lady, mother of Christ. Besides the fireworks and colourful stuff, you also get a variety of food, drink and festive marches with people having endless fun. Our Lady’s entry into heaven is commemorated so grandly here on earth that she might feel a bit let down with what happens up in the heavens above.

Maltese love noise and we also adore making merry for whatever reason, be it the World Cup or the build-up to a general election. It’s not always clear whether the cause or saint being officially commemorated is really the reason for the fun which sees people cavorting in a semi- or fully-drunken stupor. But who cares why we celebrate. We do and we love seeing visitors joining in the fun.

Santa Marija is however also celebrated solemnly (religiously and in good taste in churches throughout Malta) and with gusto in these localities whose parishes honour her: Attard, Mosta, Mqabba, Qrendi, Gudja, Ghaxaq, and Victoria, Gozo (for a full list of Parish Feasts in August, click here).

I must warn you about Gozo on the eve of Santa Maria. A horde of Malta residents heads to Gozo around the 15 August as the week around Santa Marija see most firms shutdown for a summer recess. Ferry trips to and from the sister isle can be a bit more time consuming. If you are going up, remember to take a lot of water and sun protection as you’ll get dehydrated out on the scorching Tarmac at the Cirkewwa ferry terminal as you can wait up to an hour with no shade! Ah, what we do for a holiday! Perhaps it’s best to stay in those airy, cool churches and celebrate the feast that way!

This article first appeared in Malta Inside Out August 2011

Photo: Leslie Vella

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