Lejla Mgarrija nears 30th anniversary

Preparations are well underway for Mgarr’s annual celebration of local produce and talent, as ‘Lejla Mgarrija’ will take place at the village’s main square on August 7.

The festival’s first ever edition took place in the summer of 1983, after now mayor Paul Vella travelled to Switzerland as part of an activity organised by Azzjoni Kattolika youth camp.

“By divine coincidence, during this stop, a village wide celebration that takes place every 25 years was being held.  Stages strewn throughout the squares hosted music and dance acts, stalls sold products typical of that region, while other stalls featured artisans and craftsmen showcasing their work,” a representative of the Lejla Mgarrija Committee said. Vella was then inspired to set up a similar event in his native Mgarr.

“Keep in mind that nothing of this sort had ever been organised in Malta, it was a completely new concept for these shores,” the representative said.

Originally meant to be a one-off event, Lejla Mgarrija quickly evolved into an annual affair, taking advantage both of Mgarr’s rich local produce as well as its vibrant theatrical talent, since “a myriad of plays, variety/cabaret shows, and comedies” were ready to be put up by locals.

However while several activities – including exhibitions and competitions – were added over the years, the committee insists that the “backbone” of the festival remains “the agricultural themed competitions and exhibitions and the variety show. Another constant is the emphasis on the Maltese rural culture, traditions and heritage.”

This year, highlights will include a fruit and vegetable display competition, where farmers will each be given a tray in which they will be asked to arrange their own produce, with the most ‘original’ arrangement scoring the most points. The variety show will incorporate ghana, children’s entertainment, classical and folk music as well as a drama depicting prehistoric life in Mgarr. Former Eurovision hopeful Thea Garrett will be the main guest for the night.

The festival will come to a close with a fireworks display “by Mgarr’s very own fireworks factory,” and the award-giving ceremony for all the competitions.      

While there is a definite element of local pride to the festival – only residents from Mgarr and its limits are allowed to participate – the committee says that just as its annual strawberry showcase – Festa Frawli – has grown beyond its original remit, and  attracts “a wide audience thanks to the originality of the concept and to the professional execution,” despite the fact that the festival is organised and run exclusively by volunteers.

“I honestly cannot pinpoint exactly what drives all volunteers, but I guess its sheer momentum generated by this event, and its importance in the Maltese calendar,” the representative said.

Nothing beats the Zejtun Olive Fest which is held yearly in September.