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Some countries have fiestas, many have festivals and still more have carnivals - but Malta has festas! They’re similar to all of the above in some respects and yet utterly different and uniquely Maltese in others. The only way you’ll ever really find out is by attending one yourself.
That’s the one thing to get straight right from the start because these are all-inclusive celebrations. No-one is going to frown upon you being there or ask you to leave because you’re not a local. It’s a case of ‘the more the merrier’ when it comes to a festa.
And attend one you should! There are dozens of them to choose from, every village on the island has at least one, so check if there are any happening when you’re there and head for the relevant place. The memories will stay with you for life!
Though they’re all slightly different, much of what goes on is the same, especially when it comes to fireworks! Yes, your first clue that a festa is about to kick off, aside from the fact that lots of colourful banners will go up in the streets, is a succession of eardrum-splitting bangs.
Fireworks are an integral part of every one of these week-long, non-stop celebrations but they’re not all those look into the night sky at pretty sparkly explosions and say “Ooh and aaah!” Granted there will be lots of those after the sun goes down, but during the hours of daylight there are ‘petards’!
These mighty bangers produce the deafening booms and herald the fact that the festa is upon us and supposedly ward off any evil spirits that might be hanging around.
They’ll scare the living daylights out of you at times but they’re part of daily life here so few local people pay them any mind. Thankfully, the bangs are replaced by more pleasant noise in the evenings when the bands strike up the music.
Are you getting the picture? Fireworks, decorated streets, lots of people, lots of food, music, general merriment – these all come together to form the basis of a festa.
Now to make it confusing again and we alluded to this earlier if you were paying attention! Most towns and villages in Malta and Gozo have two parishes, each with their own patron saint, band club and, consequently, their own festa. Some towns have more than two! So you can appreciate that means there are many festas!
The rivalry, particularly between neighbouring parishes is fierce and there was a time when it could actually get quite hostile. Thankfully these days the conflicts are restricted to competitions for better decorations, more spectacular fireworks and bigger crowds. That’s why no-one will mind if you turn up!
Within the festa you’ll find stalls churning out traditional festa fare, like nougat, peanuts and candy floss, although more recently the ubiquitous hot-dog and burger stands have been appearing more and more.
The prevailing atmosphere in the streets is a happy one and this is kept bubbling along by the young men and women who sing and dance together. Inside the magnificently decorated church the religious aspect of the festa is carried out in the form of well rehearsed and attended functions.
Local chaps gain extra kudos among their neighbours by landing a leading role carrying the statue through the streets. These are often cripplingly heavy and take half a dozen burly fellows to heft it around.
The only other thing is that we feel duty bound to warn you about parking for festas. They will be busy so you’ll need to arrive early to get a space, and they also go on very late, so if you’re planning on using public transport, check when the last buses depart.
Tourist information offices can provide details of festa dates but the vast majority of them take place through the summer months.
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