One of the things Malta is very well-known for, are its typical and traditional Parish Feasts. Malta is a very religious country; its official religion being mainly Catholic, and since the middle ages (if not before) each town and village has had a particularly close and defining link with its own parish patron saint. Most Parish feasts in Malta take place during the months of summer. Almost every weekend brings forth generally not one but two or even three different parish feasts in different localities of Malta and Gozo.
Not only that – some towns or villages even go so far as to sport two different Parish Churches, two Parish Saints, and therefore two different Parish feasts. You’d think that the people would rejoice to have two celebrations instead of one – some do, but true to the Maltese competitive spirit, many also treat this as a competition. Parishioners belonging to the two different churches strive their utmost to create the better feast, with the most bombastic decorations, colourful fireworks, louder music and most evident live entertainment. The Parish’s marching band, girl and boy scouts, choirs, religious groups and parishioners all feel this spirit of competitiveness when preparing their feasts – even those belonging to towns or villages which have only one official Saint. All this contributes to making each and every Parish feast bigger and better than the ones before it, and a truly wonderful and amazing way to celebrate, meet friends, and spend a delightful evening.
The historically rich village of Hal Qormi, situated almost in the middle of the island of Malta, is one of those villages which, among other things, is very well known for its village feasts. Hal Qormi is one of those villages which can boast two different parish churches, that of Saint George, and that of Saint Sebastian. These two parishes have always competed with each other, so much so in fact, that people who live in Hal Qormi are generally defined and known by their Patron saint.
The Parish feast of Saint George, which is the older of the two Parishes, takes place during the last week of June. The feast of the Parish of Saint Sebastian, which is the more modern and largest of the two, is celebrated during the third Sunday of July.
Unfortunately, I could not attend the Feast of Saint George this year, as I was abroad. This makes me look forward to enjoying the Feast of Saint Sebastian even more. This year the Feast of Saint Sebastian will be taking place, officially, on Sunday 17th July. This does not, however mean that the events and celebrations surrounding it will take place solely on that day. The Maltese celebrate in style, and in fact the main activities for the feast will be starting as early as Monday 11th July. Banners, valances and decorations were already in place three weeks before the actual feast.
On Monday 11th July, the week dedicated to the Feast starts off with a procession to the Statue of Saint Sebastian, in Saint Sebastian Street, where a number of local religious leaders will place Laurel Crowns around the statue. After evening mass, the Statue of Saint Sebastian will be taken out of its usual church-niche and placed at the door of the church, while a marching band will play around various streets of the parish. On Tuesday 12th July, a procession of children bearing a small statue of the Saint will walk from the boy’s museum to the church. After evening mass, the Imperial Mellieha Marching Band will make its way along various main streets of the parish. On Wednesday 13th July there will be a special mass dedicated to the senior citizens and ill persons of both Qormi parishes. In the evening, the Musical Society of Saint Catherine will be marching, accompanied by the Philarmonic Society Pinto Banda San Bastjan, as well as a Mass Band formed by various different groups. At the end of the entertainment provided by the marching bands, there will be a spectacle entitled ‘Sound of Colours’ and hosted by the ‘Kummissjoni Zaghzagh Bastjanizi’, which will present music, pyrotechnic lights and other entertainment.
On Thursday 14th July, the Philarmonic Society of Saint Sebastian will be marching through a number of streets after evening mass. Afterwards, it will present an evening of music and song in front of the Philarmonic Society Pinto Band Club. On Friday 15th July, there will be a number of special masses as well as marching bands, after which another glorious pyrotechnic show will also herald fireworks in Grandmasters’ Square. All five days leading up to the feast will be starting off with petards in the morning, and closing with them in the evening as well.
The peak of the week will surely be Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th July, whereby a number of religious functions centred around the Church of Saint Sebastian will be taking place. There will be a vast number of stands offering traditional, as well as take-away food, pastries and sweets, hand-made items for sale, as well as exhibitions, music, live entertainment, plays, and street life. The magnificent fireworks, accompanied by brass bands and local artists, will colour the celebration.
The Maltese Parish Festa is an integral and important part of Maltese culture and the Maltese way of life. It is generally the main yearly social event of each and every town and village and is a great opportunity for families to get together and have a good time with their friends and neighbours.
Another reason why summer in Malta is truly memorable!
© Melisande Aquilina