[WATCH] Jubilant locals flock to the streets to celebrate Santa Marija

MaltaToday visits Mqabba and Ghaxaq feast to view the celebrations

Groups of people in blue T-Shirts fill the Ghaxaq square to celebrate the much-anticipated feast of Santa Marija
Groups of people in blue T-Shirts fill the Ghaxaq square to celebrate the much-anticipated feast of Santa Marija
Jubilant locals flock to the streets to celebrate Santa Marija

For many, the 15th of August is a public holiday warranting long trips to the beach or even trips abroad, but for seven localities, and might I add festa enthusiasts around the island, the holiday has a little extra special meaning, with festivities marking the culmination of summer festa celebrations around the island. There are some seven localities whose parish is dedicated to Santa Marija, namely Attard, Mosta, Mqabba, Qrendi, Gudja, Ghaxaq, and Victoria, Gozo. MaltaToday visited Mqabba and Ghaxaq to see how the feast marks a re-enactment of age-old traditions and youthful celebration…

Walking into both Mqabba and Hal Ghaxaq before the festivities start, you immediately get a sense of the way that the town streets tend to be re-taken by the locals on this special day. Barriers are set up at various locations, meaning pedestrians can walk freely in the middle of the road, as band club members prepare their stalls and supplies peacefully. It’s only as you get closer to the parish church that the sound of singing and band music becomes discernible as the faithful gather in the church to celebrate mass.

The streets for now are bare, but people are milling in and out of the band club carrying red flags and T-Shirts in Mqabba, and blue ones in Ghaxaq, preparing for the highly anticipated street celebrations to follow the mass.

The sound of the bells tolling every hour is the only thing that disturbs the peace for now... but soon as the bell strikes 1.00pm, the image changes completely, as young children and adults alike meet on the church steps to greet each other and stand around in familiar groups sipping beer and sharing stories.

Minutes later the lively band marches out to tour the quiet roads while being followed by children dancing and jumping to the music. Local inhabitants stick their heads out of their window and shower the band in confetti as they walk along their streets, with pets peering out occasionally and barking at passers by.

In Ghaxaq while the brass band played and walked through the streets, the party raged on the square as revellers clutched their beers and sang and children zipped around throwing confetti at each other, as people continued to collect in groups to celebrate the arrival of the band back in the square.

Mqabba’s long, proud history of celebrations

Given our early arrival, band club members in Mqabba were immediately eager to show us what makes their celebration special, and we were led to the band club’s pride and joy; its newly opened Marija Assunta hall. Tha hall houses some impressive paintings by Gozitan artist Paolo Camilleri Cauchi, including a stunning depiction of the arrival of the Convoy arriving in Malta during World War II. The convoy bore some much-needed food and supplies, and arrived in the country on the 15th August 1942, at historically the nick of time for locals. It is arguably this particular historic event that makes the feast a particularly special one.

“The hall is also used to exhibit a number of special Semana Santa figurines during the Holy Week,” Vice secretary general of the Socjeta Santa Marija and the King George band club, Remenda Borg Grech told MaltaToday.

During our tour of the premises, Borg Grech also explained that the Band Club had been opened in 1910, making it one of the oldest and most respected in the country. She added that the club had in fact earned a number of impressive accolades throughout the years, and that members of the club had been invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II during her recent visit to Malta.

Band Club member Joseph Galea told the newsroom that he had been an active participant in the festivities since the age of nine when he used to help out in setting up fireworks outside the village.

“Young people are an essential part of the celebrations here,” he said, stressing that organizing the festivities had become increasingly extensive and impressive over the years, particularly with the renowned fireworks show held every year on the 14th August.

Among the many prizes the club had achieved was the 2006 Malta National Fireworks Championship, as well as the 2007 Caput Lucis competition held in Rome and pitting a number of international companies head to head.

Galea also explained that the feast had always marked a central part of the town calendar of events, with many making a particular effort to celebrate the special day no matter what they were going through.

“When I went through a period of ill health in my youth I remember swallowing my pain and just doing my best to be present anyway,” Galea said, adding that he hadn’t missed a single celebration since, even carrying the statue for the past 30 years.

The rector of the Brotherhood of the Blessed Sacrament Antoine Farrugia went on to describe the feast’s proud and long history, with its parish dating back to 1598, and an 88-year-old statue that had been through the Second World War almost completely unscathed.

“During the war, our parish was unfortunately struck by a bomb, which brought down the church belfry. However, luckily the statue was not affected, and the only evidence of the event is a small dent in the Parish’s Chasse or reliquary box,” Farrugia said.

He added that the locality was particularly excited about this year’s celebrations as there would be novelties including a Fireworks display set off from the rooftop of the band club, during tonight’s celebrations.