The Maltese summer festa season hits its peak on 15th August with the feast of Santa Marija or, to give it its official title, the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, which is celebrated in no fewer than seven towns: Mqabba, Qrendi, Mosta, Attard, Gudja, Ghaxaq, and Victoria in Gozo.
It’s not just a religious feast but also a public holiday marking the mid-point of our long hot summer, when most businesses shut up shop to give employees a breather as the thermometer continues to sizzle.
For festa enthusiasts, Santa Marija is the queen of the season, and the usual competition between the parishes goes up a notch or three as towns vie with each other to produce the biggest, most colourful celebration punctuated by the loudest and most creative fireworks.
In some towns, celebrations start two weeks prior to the big day, and culminate in spectacular fireworks displays on the 14th and 15th of August. One of the best pyrotechnic shows to watch will be the one produced by the St Mary’s Fireworks Factory of Mqabba, which is renowned for its ingenious displays. Get there early on the evening of 14th August to grab a good viewing post, as it will get very crowded. Not to be outdone by its neighbour, Qrendi’s Santa Marija celebrations are drawn out over four weeks from 30th July to 22nd August.
The famous Mosta dome, or Rotunda as the locals refer to it, glows bright as it becomes the focal point for all Santa Marija celebrations, with High Mass celebrated by the Archbishop on 15th August at 9:15am. The mechanised ground fireworks display is held outside the church on the eve starting at 11:30pm, while the procession with the titular statue starts at 6:45pm on 15th August, with the brass band playing the Ave Maria.
The elegant residential town of Attard is also en fête. Make sure to take a peek inside the parish church, which was built between 1613 and 1624 on designs by architect and sculptor Tommaso Dingli and is regarded as the finest Renaissance church on the island. A concert by the brass band La Stella Levantina will be held on the eve at 8pm in the parish square, followed by fireworks at 11:15pm. The procession with the titular statue starts at about 6:45pm on 15th August and finishes at around 10:30pm.
Another church built by Tommaso Dingli is that of the parish of Gudja, which is also celebrating the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. Completed in 1666, it is the only church in Malta with three bell towers. When it comes to Santa Marija festa processions, Gudja holds the record for the oldest titular statue of the Assumption, sculpted out of solid wood in 1807 by Maltese sculptor Vincenzo Dimech. Sacred music will be performed by the Assumpta Est choir every day from 11th August in the church at 6:30pm, culminating in the pontifical mass on 15th August at 9am. There will also be two concerts by the La stella Band Club and Maria Assunta Band Club on 14th August from 9pm. The procession with the titular statue on 15th August starts at 7:30pm.
Ghaxaq goes to town with its street decorations for the Santa Marija festa, which is documented to have been celebrated in this village since at least the start of the 1800s. Many of its elaborate street decorations, including statues and pedestals, are over 100 years old. Celebrations actually kick off two weeks before on 30th July at precisely 12pm, when the church bells go wild, flags are hoisted up above the rooftops triggered by a 21-gun salute. A powerful siren, a World War II relic, is sounded from the St Mary’s Club in memory of the joyful arrival of the SS Ohio, which quite literally saved the island at the height of the Siege of Malta.
Head over to Ghaxaq on 13th August from 10pm for a street party like no other, where a procession with the statue of Our Lady ends with a confetti and fireworks show followed by a gig by DJ Armani. And on 14th August, bag yourself a vantage point on Valletta Road just outside the town to watch the “pyro-musical” spectacle “The Convoy” from 9pm, followed by mechanised ground fireworks at 11pm. At noon on 15th August, make sure you don’t miss a little tradition dating back to the 19th century when a mini statuette of the Assumption pops out of its elaborate sarcophagus on top of a grandfather-clock-like structure!
The capital of the sister island, Victoria, is also celebrating the feast of Santa Marija. The cathedral at the Citadel is the focal point for this festa, which also features traditional horse races along Republic Street as well as an agricultural fair at Villa Rundle on 14th and 15th August. Don’t miss the concerts by the Leone Philharmonic Society brass band which is based in the Aurora Theatre, one of Victoria’s two opera houses.