‘Ġewż, lewż, qastan, tin, kemm inħobbu l’San Martin!’
(‘Walnuts, Almonds, Chestnuts, Figs, I really love Saint Martin’)
This very old children’s rhyme shows the spirit and excitement pervading this Maltese traditional feast. Historically, Saint Martin’s Feast was considered to be a favourite with children because it was one of the very few times when a religious feast involved such food treats. In fact, there exist a number of traditional Maltese games involving nuts. Like ‘Boċċi’, where children used hazelnuts instead of marble balls, or ‘bunbun – mamma’, which involved the use of large marbles hitting smaller nuts. Children saved the nuts to play with, and then ate them when they got broken.
Saint Martin’s Feast was always a milestone in the religious calendar of the Maltese islands. This is because it preceeded the 40 day fasting period before Christmas, known as ‘Quadragesima Sancti Martini’, which in Latin means, ‘the 40 days of Saint Martin’, later called the ‘Advent’ by the Church. On Saint Martin’s eve, people ate and drank heavily for the last time before they started the fasting period. Grown-ups gave children presents; traditionally a cloth bag full of nuts and sweets, known as ‘Borża ta’ San Martin’. Saint Martin was also referred to as the protector of wine makers and tavern owners, as during this period farmers used to enjoy the first wine tasting with the fruit produced from the previous summer harvest.
Today, nuts and walnuts are available in supermarkets and shops all year round, and yet, people still continue to enjoy this tradition and use it as a focal point for events and celebrations.
The most well-known feast of Saint Martin in Malta is the one which takes place in the rural village of Baħrija in Rabat. This year, a Fair will be organised on Sunday 13th November on the church grounds, and people will have the opportunity to not only experience a number of live shows, as well as entertainment ventures, but also to purchase traditional local products, and food.
The celebration will start with a Press Conference in front of Saint Martin’s Church on Thursday 10th November, where the Hon. Parliament Secretary Roderick Galdes will preside. It will continue on Saturday 12th November with Holy Mass in honour of the Patron Saint at 6.00pm, as well as a procession of the statue of Saint Martin around the streets of Baħrija at 7.15pm. The actual Fair will be taking place on Sunday 13th from 9.00am till 5.00pm near the church.
The main features of the fair include a competition for the national record of the largest ‘Borża ta’ San Martin’, weighing more than 500kgs, a competition for the highest flying kite, a rabbit show hosted by the Malta Rabbit Club, a fancy poultry competition, live roasting of chestnuts on a traditional firewood stove, as well as live music and a coffee area where locals and tourists will be able to enjoy traditional tea and coffee, together with local pastries and food. Notable among these are the tasty Maltese ricotta kannoli, imqaret, honey rings (‘qagħaq tal-għasel’), Maltese honey, jam, as well as the well known Saint Martin’s cake and other sweets.
There will also be a Children’s area featuring an animal farm, offering pony rides, and sporting a bouncing castle, a trampoline, as well as a merry-go-round. As well as a notable number of artisan, food and wine stalls selling and showcasing traditional products.
A Park and Ride scheme shall be provided on the day of the Fair free of Charge. For more information, visit this website.