An Idiot’s Guide: Where Maltese Public Holidays Came From
Finally, an answer to the age old question: "Why are there fireworks at 7am today?"
St Paul’s Shipwreck
February wasn’t always such a dry, warm month. In 60AD a Roman navy ship was set to deliver Paul, the most renowned of all Christian apostles, across the Mediterranean to Rome to be tried. A storm cut short their travel plans and alas, the ship was wrecked off the coast of our very own Malta.
So, long story short – Paul came here, converted the entire population to Christianity by charming a snake out of a fire, and so we have the first of many days off work.
So, your wife gets pregnant before you marry her. The father is none other than God himself. You choose to stay with her for the rest of your days and take a vow of chastity. It’s only fair that you get your own feast day for your troubles.
Typically, Maltese families commemorate this by spending the day picnicking at il-Buskett (our humble woodland) and gorging on delicious zeppoli.
The British never really wanted to leave Malta, and who could blame them. But their rent was up and we weren’t looking for another tenant. So the Navy withdrew the last of her troops from the Islands and off they went.
In commemoration we hold a rowing regatta (if you’re picturing those Cambridge gentlemen wearing waistcoats and straw hats, think again) in the Grand Harbour. This lively event often gets out of hand but is very entertaining to watch and throws the Grand Harbour back to its bustling days once more.
Also known as Labour Day and the feast of St Joseph the Worker (so yes, he actually gets two days). This internationally-celebrated holiday commemorates the hardships and accomplishments of workers worldwide and their struggle to regulate working conditions by giving them a day off. Unless they work at a hospital, or with the police force, or as a bus driver...
Malta also joined the European Union (EU) on this day in 2004. Since then we have yet another reason to lie back and relax in the sweet spring sun (not that we needed it) and crack open a pint or two.
Put on your black and white glasses. It’s 1919. The world is at war. Farmers can’t cope with the high demand of produce. The price of bread is rising.
People are pissed, mass protests arise (some things never change), some even get shot and killed (thankfully some things do). Fast forward a few centuries and we recurrently have the day off work, and since it’s in June it’s usually spent at the beach.
St Peter & St Paul
L-Imnarja; the festival of light. Probably one of Malta’s oldest holidays, said to date back to the Roman period and is the closest we get to a pagan harvest festival on the islands.
Traditional bareback horse and donkey races take place on this day. It is said that during the Knight’s rule, this was the only day that Maltese people were allowed to hunt rabbit, starting the much loved fenkata (a delicious meal or rabbit pasta and stew) tradition. Today we’ve more than made up for those hard times.
This is the mother of all feasts. Probably because Santa Marija , which originally celebrates the mysterious assumption of the virgin Mary into heaven in the Catholic calendar, happens during the hottest month, and the whole country shuts down.
Historically it is also tied to the success of Operation Pedestal, a convoy of ships sent by the British Navy which saved the island from starvation during the Second World War. So yes, another excuse to go to Gozo for the long weekend and enjoy some well deserved sun.
Our Lady of Victories
We’ve seen our fair share of conflict through the ages. No less than in 1565 when the Ottoman Empire held the islands under siege for three months, culminating in a bloody, gruesome battle. It is said to have been the deadliest conflict the islands had endured, and so we named a beer after it. It is usually brought up in conversation any time the Maltese and Turkish football teams face off in a European Cup qualifier.
In 1964, our government signed a treaty with the United Kingdom, making Malta an independent constitutional monarchy. Translated to English this meant that we governed ourselves but kept the Queen as our head of state (saving us the hassle of changing our currency or telephone boxes).
The Immaculate Conception
On this day, the Catholic Church commemorates the birth of the Virgin Mary. Locally, it is mainly celebrated in the beautiful town of Cospicua, with all the fanfare that lights up a typical Maltese festa, copious amounts of alcohol and a few non virgin births nine months down the line.
This was the final step in the creation of our political autonomy. For the first time in history, Malta was completely sovereign, having no direct ties to any other nation.
Malta got its first president, and instituted the Xirka Ġieħ ir-Repubblika. This is when the state honours citizens who have worked tirelessly for the benefit of the Maltese people, or those who have won a song contest for children.