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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - The Festa

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The Festa

Every parish in Malta has its own Patron Saint – once a year, the parishioners throw a spectacular party in his or her honour; this is what the Festa is all about. Most towns or villages have one parish church, so the grand event is dubbed: il-festa tar-raħal, or the village feast. Notwithstanding this, a number of towns, such as Valletta, Sliema and Birkirkara are multi-parishional and so are the venue of more than one festa. Some subsidiary churches also organise similar events, albeit on a less grand scale.

The festa is very much like a noisy street party, with deafiningly loud petards and colourful firework displays. The streets are decorated with brightly coloured, ebroidered “curtains”, or bandalori, and electric lights and multicoloured paper decorations that connect buldings on opposite sides of the streets. Statues of angels and saints on baroque style guilded pedestals may line the parish square and the streets in its proximity. The church’s façade is similarly ablaze with electric lights whilst the interior is richly decorated with emboidered damask. Church bells are rung incessantly whilst a brass band (il-banda) churns out lively march music (marċi brijużi) on a planċier, an elaborately decorated platform situated on the church’s parvis (zuntier). Such brass bands also perform in ambulatory style, as they walk along the village streets. Children often pour confetti and shredded paper from balconies as the band goes by. Revellers often (over-) indulge in alcoholic drinks, especially beer and paint their faces in bright colours. Scuffles and unashamed exchange of insults between supporters of rival band clubs are not at all unknown, although such incidents have thankfully become less commonplace.

 

Festa at Mosta

Stalls selling ice-cream and junk food such as hot-dogs and candy floss are as much characteristic of the village festa as the band marches. Other stalls sell the rock hard Maltese nougat (Ġanni l-Għawdxi and iż-Żebbuġi seem to be just anywhere!), whilst others try to lure young customers with their wares of multinational plastic flags and cheap and mostly useless trinkets.

In the evening, the main statue (vara) representing the patron saint is paraded in the streets in a slow moving procession (purċissjoni), accompanied by clergymen and their accessories, carrying such parphernalia as tall crucifixes and lanterns – whilst the brass band plays more sombre music (no marċi brijużi here!) and children shower yet more confetti. The St. Helen feast at Birkirkara is one notable exception, as the purċissjoni is held on Sunday morning.

The ċikċifogu (a bizarre corruption of the Italian phrase: guoco di fuoco) is a spectacular display of catherine wheels that frighteningly shower brightly coloured sparks onto the crowd, and is the grand finale of the festa.

A more solemn celebration does take place within the church building in the meantime, called the festa interna, characterised by religious functions that culminate in the paniġierku – a long winded sermon delivered from the pulpit by a priest to the more devout parishioners.