Photo: Mellieha Festa 2014 fireworks© iStock/SteveinMalta
One part religious festival, one part riotous street party and one part fireworks extravaganza: Malta’s festas are among the most vibrant traditional celebrations on the archipelago. Bank on boisterous crowds, all done up in their festive best. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to sample qubbajt (Maltese nougat) or mqaret (fried date cakes), both of which are among the staple treats on offer. Then there are the cheerful banners, the papier-mâché statues, the spectacular street performers and fireworks, the marching bands and the dancing, all of which contribute to an unabashed carnival vibe.
Visit between April and September and you won’t miss out on festa season—a street party seems to spring up at least once a week to celebrate a busy diary of national holidays and saint’s days, with even the tiniest villages rolling out their festival finery to honour their particular patron saints, such as the Feast of St Joseph. Not a local? Don’t let that put you off getting stuck in. In Malta, everyone’s welcome to join the party, even if you haven’t quite mastered the difference between St Paul and St Publius.
The Feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck
Hearsay has it that St Paul himself, by happy accident, found his ship beached upon Malta’s shores and proceeded to establish its first parish some 2,000 years ago, so it’s appropriate that this is the one to kick off Malta’s festa season with a national holiday on 10th February. Make your way to Valletta for vibrant processions, piles of confetti and the colourful crackle of fireworks over a picturesque skyline.
The Feast of St Joseph
The village of Rabat hosts one of Malta’s most indulgent firework displays to celebrate the feast day of St Joseph around 19th March (the exact date changes annually depending on Lent and Easter). Join the noisy pomp and ceremony of the marching band and make a point of nudging in amongst the crowds inside the atmospheric St Joseph Church, which is beautifully lit for the occasion.
This colourful homage to ancient Maltese customs has a hearty focus on traditional dancing and singing (għana). The revelry is served with lashings of traditional rabbit stew washed down with local wine, making good grounds for an all-night party that starts on the 28th June and continues into the public holiday the following day, when thousands gather to cheer the horse and donkey races.
The Feast of Santa Marija
Many locals head off to Malta’s sister island Gozo for this popular village feast, but with eight Maltese towns celebrating in full force on 15th August, you won’t miss out by staying put. This festa is famous for its fireworks, with an award-winning pyromusical display lighting the skies above Mqabba.
Feast of Our Lady of Graces
This last major festa of the year is testament to Malta’s healthy appetite for an all-night shindig. Held on the first Sunday after 8th September in the village of Żabbar, with its two brass bands—double the fanfare—and all-in-good-fun bicycle pilgrimage (Our Lady of Graces is the Patron Saint of Cycling), this is certainly a party to end all parties, and continues into the night in an outdoor theatre that’s been heavily dressed for the occasion.