Celebrating village feasts is an important tradition on the Maltese islands and a unique experience for visitors. Every night during the summer, there is a feast in some location on the islands. Rivaling band clubs and competing villages work tirelessly to make their feast the best and the most spectacular one ever. As a result, village feasts feature entertainment and decorations that are quite impressive for the small size of the islands.
What is a Village Festa?
Village feast (or, in Maltese, festa) is a celebration of its patron saint. Every village has a festa, and attending one is a great way to mingle with the locals. Celebrating a festa gives a first-hand experience of a village life. The community puts in a lot of effort to celebrate their saints. However, a festa is not merely a religious celebration. It is not confined to a sacred space, nor separated from life.
A festa is first and foremost a social gathering, a community event. The inevitable rivalries and feuds of a small island are contributing to the festa spirit along with the joys of social gathering and celebration. At feast time, the sacred mixes with the profane, as the party comes to the front step of the parish church.
The patron saint of the village is invited to join the party, to come down from his or her sacred niche in the church and mingle with the villagers, as the statue is carried through the streets on the last night of the festa, to the explosions of fireworks, shouting and much jubilation.
Celebrating the Festa
The local band club is delegated with the task of preparing for the festa. Volunteers decorate the facade of the parish church with lights, adorn the altars with flowers, damask curtains and chandeliers. Outside, in the church square, the band will organize concerts, march through the streets, and have loud music playing well into the night. A village celebrates its festa for one whole week with much revelry and partying.
Volunteers decorate the streets with flags, drapery and wooden columns, on top of which are statues of saints. In most cases, the elaborate fireworks can compete with firework displays of big cities. Every festa is a street party that brings together all members of the local community. Local restaurants set up stalls to offer street food, while beer and wine are flowing in the busy pubs.
Festas in Gozo
More than just a community event, the village festa is also a source of pride for the locals, as well as an opportunity to show off. Consequently, many band clubs plan many months ahead to make their village feast better than the one of their competitors.
Some of the biggest festas on Gozo are celebrated in the capital Victoria (Rabat) and in the village of Xewkija.
The first of the two festas in Victoria is the Feast of St George in July, centered at St George’s Basilica. This feast features horse racing along the main street, and concerts by La Stella brass band. Offcially called La Stella Philarmonic Society, it is based at Astra theatre, one of the two of Gozo’s opera theatres.
The second festa in Victoria is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, or Santa Marija in Maltese, on the 15th August. It also features traditional horse racing, concerts and an agricultural show. Santa Marija is organized by the Leone brass band (Philharmonic Society), centered at the other of two of Gozo’s opera theatres, the Aurora.
The feast of St John the Baptist in Xewkija falls on the Sunday closest to June 24th. It is one of the biggest festas on the island and features horse races, marches, concerts and spectacular fireworks.