National/ Public Holidays Explained
by Mr Yellow
Your place of work may be the highest rated company in Malta, and your colleagues may be the best people you could ever wish for, but we have all felt the sensation of disillusion when a public holiday falls on the weekend. The blow is especially felt by people working in offices, who are baffled as to why the holiday had to fall on a weekend, when the probability of falling on a weekday is much higher. After this sense of disgruntlement, we can all admit that we find ourselves scrutinising the future calendar months with fervour and eagerness, in an endeavour to find out which holiday we'll have to look forward to next. Those holidays which can be bridged to the weekend are definitely our favourite!
However, despite our age, or level of cultural, religious and historical know-how, we commonly get confused as to what we're actually celebrating, and why the day has been titled a national or a public holiday in Malta. While important events are at the foundation of all holidays, public holidays have more religious roots, while national holidays have a more historical inception. This article will give you an overview of the origins and traditions of each and every public holiday which graces our calendar.
1st January: New Year's Day
The first day of the year is traditionally spent with family and close friends. It's the day when you'll reminisce on memorable days, events, and activities, which made their mark during the past year, and a day when you look ahead, and plan intriguing activities for the new year, in an endeavour to make it more memorable than the last. Celebrated by all countries following the Gregorian calendar, most people start celebrating it from the previous evening. Since it falls one week after Christmas, festivities would still be in full swing, culminating on New Year's Day.
After counting down the seconds on New Year's eve, and revelling in the midnight fireworks displays, the local tradition is to wake up for a scrumptious lunch, celebrating the kickoff of the new year. While some families prefer cooking a home-made meal for all the family, others opt for the more convenient option of eating at one of the restaurants in Malta and Gozo. Do book well in advance if you have a specific restaurant in mind, as the first day of the year tends to be very busy for family restaurants.
10th February: St Paul's Shipwreck
One of the patron saints of Malta, St Paul holds a dear place in the heart of the local Catholic Church. On this day, we remember the shipwrecking of St Paul on our tiny island, while on his way to Rome in 60 A.D; which event brought about the rise of Christianity in Malta. This event is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles chapter of the Bible, but there is no actual certainty, as to the precise date when he landed on our islands. What we do know is that he spent three months in Malta, before resuming his journey to Rome. Converting our ancestors from paganism, it is interesting to envision what the current situation of the Maltese Islands would have been, supposing that the boat wasn't caught up in the storm.
Want to get into a festive mood? Head down to the Church of St Paul's Shipwreck in Valletta, and relish the lively procession which is organised in the evening, amid the charming street lights and decorations.
19th March: Feast of St Joseph
Although having no direct correlation with Malta, this day is dedicated to the spouse of the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, and mass attendance is considered mandatory. Head up to Rabat, and relish in the festive celebrations which distinguish this feast. You may also get your hands on the artisan 'żeppoli', the famous pastry associated with this feast, while watching the procession and fireworks displays.
19th March has also been titled as Corporate Social Responsibility Day, and on this day, everyone is encouraged to carry out community work.
31st March: Freedom Day
One of the five national holidays in Malta, this distinguished date commemorates the start of Malta's unoccupied days. Although Malta achieved its long-awaited independence in 1964, it was only in 1979, that the remaining British forces and the Royal Navy left the Maltese Islands for good, after lengthy lease negotiations by the newly-elected Labour Government with the United Kingdom in 1971. This day commemorates the end of Malta as a strategic military base, and the termination of all foreign dominions, once and for all.
This national holiday is celebrated with a military parade, which culminates at the Freedom Day monument in Birgu, where commemorative wreaths are placed. Celebrations also take place at the War Memorial in Floriana. In the afternoon, head down to the Grand Harbour, and watch the traditional regatta boat races, a popular custom on this day. Cheer on your favourite team, amongst the many ardent spectators!
Celebrated on the Friday before Easter Sunday, this public holiday always comes on a different date. How is the date determined? It's interesting to note that Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, so it can fall any day between March 22 and April 25. A day of reflection, atonement, fasting, and sacrifice, Good Friday is a meaningful day for the Catholic Church, as it remembers the suffering of Christ, and his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. On this solemn day, all churches are stripped off their glorious ornaments, and no masses are celebrated.
How can you get in a state of pensiveness on this day? There's quite a vast range of traditions you can participate in. Take part in the traditional 'viżti' on Maundy Thursday, or on the morning of Good Friday, visit a statue exhibition, attend the special church service at 3pm (which would include readings from the Bible, an adoration of the Cross and Holy Communion), and go watch one of the solemn processions which several towns in Malta and Gozo organise. Those organised in Żebbug, Mosta, Rabat, Birgu, Isla, Valletta, Bormla, Paola and Qormi, are such examples of towns you can visit.
On the contrary to the standard lively parish feasts, the Good Friday procession is characterised with sad funeral marches played by parish bands. It's quite a lengthy procession, with hundreds of participants dressed as Biblical characters, and with several statues representing the journey of Christ to the cross. Although somewhat commercialised with fast food trucks occupying the streets, all the previously-mentioned traditions are meant to help you meditate, and get you in a reflective mood. Don't forget to try the traditional 'qagħaq tal-Appostli'.
1st May: International Workers' Day
Also referred to as Labour Day, and May Day, the first day of May is dedicated to all workers around the globe, although not all countries celebrate it on this specific day. It's the day when the standard 8-hour workday was sanctioned in America, and, today, it's an international feast promoting solidarity, equality, unity, and safety in present-day working spaces. It also coincides with our entry into the European Union, back in 2004.
7th June: Sette Giugno
Sette Giugno remembers the day when our heroic ancestors rioted against the British in 1919, which uprising ended with 4 Maltese rioters getting killed. Considered as the primary move toward our independence, it is today considered as one of the national holidays. What led the Maltese to cause an uproar?After World War I, trade in the Mediterranean Sea was still very tumultuous, and since Malta's economy depended on it, our ancestors were confronted with overpriced supplies which the working class couldn't afford. Apart from this price inflation, the Maltese weren't satisfied with the way the British were controlling local affairs, and exasperation was increasing, culminating in these riots in 1919. Our forefathers wanted to enact a representative government which would be able to embody their needs and desires. After the 1919 rebellion, the Maltese started being given a say in local governance.
Known as 'Sette Giugno' due to the prominence of the Italian language during this time, this day is a remembrance of the fallen, whose desire was to stand up for their rights. A commemoration takes place at St George's Square in Valletta, where the Sette Giugno monument is located.
29th June: Feast of St Peter and St Paul
Having been celebrated from before the time of the Knights of St John, the feast of St Peter and St Paul is one of the oldest feasts in Malta. Referred to as 'L-Imnarja', this feast derives its name from 'Luminaria'- which means 'festival of lights'. In the past, this was a pagan festival in which bonfires and fiaccole used to be lit along bastions and on roofs.
In later centuries, it developed more religious connotations, and the day was used to celebrate two fundamental figures responsible for the proliferation of the Catholic Church, mainly St Peter and St Paul, who eventually died as martyrs.
In this time and age, 'l-Imnarja' has grown into a more cultural festival. If you head down to Buskett Gardens, you can expect a range of activities taking place on the eve of the holiday. From 'għana' (local folk music) and folk dancing, home-made food and wine stalls, exhibitions by farmers and rearers, and vegetable and animal competitions, you can expect to luxuriate in a truly Maltese experience. On the day, go over to Saqqajja hill, to check out the traditional horse and donkey races.
15th August: Feast of the Assumption of our Lady
One of the most important dates in the religious calendar, this feast commemorates the Virgin Mary, and the assumption of her body and soul to heaven; this being one of the official dogmas of the Catholic Church. With a range of towns and villages around Malta and Gozo devoutly celebrating the Virgin Mary as their patron saint, celebrations become very competitive, due to its popularity.
Enthusiasts in Mqabba, Mosta, Attard, Gudja, Għaxaq, Qrendi and Victoria, organise a plethora of orchestral concerts, colourful pyrotechnic shows, and ingenious 'ġigġifogu' (ground fireworks) on the days leading up to the feast, and a festive procession on the day, in an endeavour to attract as many outside visitors as possible.
15th August is also remembered as the day when a supply-carrying convoy sailed into the Grand Harbour, just in time to feed famished locals, towards the end of the Second World War.
Since this feast is celebrated in mid-summer, a vast range of companies go out on their yearly summer shutdown during this week, with many locals using this time for a summer getaway abroad, or in the neighbouring island of Gozo. No wonder it's so highly anticipated!
8th September: Feast of Our Lady of Victories
Originally a celebration of the nativity of the Virgin Mary ('Il-Bambina'), this day is also known as 'Victory Day'. On this day we commemorate our victory against the Turkish invaders during the Great Siege of 1565, the end of riots against the French dominion in 1800, and the end of our resistance during World War II. All these triumphant wins have made this day one of the national holidays in Malta.
This day is characterised by nation-wide celebrations. Head over to Valletta, and watch the commemoration at the Great Siege Monument, the military parade, and the inspection of the Honour Guard by the President of Malta. After lunch, head down to the Grand Harbour to follow the regatta boat races, and in the evening, participate in a religious feast celebrating the nativity of the Virgin Mary, in Naxxar, Isla, Mellieħa, or in Xagħra.
21st September: Independence Day
One of the most cherished dates in Maltese history, commemorating Independence Day as a national holiday, comes as no surprise. Although Malta was under the British jurisdiction since 1814, our forefathers worked unendingly for a representative government who would manage local affairs, without foreign intrusion. A local authority was established in 1947, but it wasn't until 1964 that the Maltese Islands gained their much-awaited independence. At this point in time, Queen Elizabeth II was still the Head of State, but the Maltese flag was proudly raised for the first time.
Floriana is the hub of all celebrations during this day. From parades, to musical performances and festivals, Independence Day is celebrated in full swing, each and every year.
8th December: Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Initiating the trail of public holidays in December, this day is a religious celebration of one of the fundamental pillars of the Catholic teachings. The Church remembers the day when the Virgin Mary was conceived, preserved from the original sin, nine months before the celebration of her nativity. Seeing as it's one of the Church's dogmas, this day is much cherished.
13th December: Republic Day
A truly significant national day, the 13th of December represents the day when Malta ceased being a Commonwealth realm, to become a Republic state in 1974, and elected Sir Anthony Mamo as the first Constitutional President, to replace Queen Elizabeth as the Head of State.
Wreaths are placed on the commemorative monument in Marsa, together with military parades in Marsa and Valletta. An annual ceremony also takes place, where locals and foreigners who have honoured Malta and deserve a merit, are recognised and awarded 'Gieħ ir-Repubblika'.
25th December: Christmas Day
The bright lights, colourful home and street decorations, bustling public spaces, cheerful faces, the handing out of gifts, and the appetising traditional food, are some elements which truly make Christmas time, the most awaited time of the year. Christmas day is one of the few days in the year when families actually get the chance to gather around one big table, and feast on scrumptious festive dishes and delicacies. What's Christmas, without a taste of the traditional Christmas cake, pudding, or Christmas log?
In the past, celebrations used to mark the Winter Solstice, and Yule was a winter pagan festival. However, in later years, we started celebrating the birth of Christ, even though a lot of celebrations are of a secular nature nowadays.
How can you get in a mirthful spirit in Malta and Gozo? Go watch a Christmas pantomime at one of the theatres in Malta or Gozo, or visit a couple of traditional and more innovative nativity cribs scattered across several villages in Malta and Gozo. On Christmas eve, attend the midnight mass, where you can delight in the Christmas carols, and listen to the traditional preaching of the child. Keep the ball rolling by going to a Christmas breakfast in the early hours of the morning. The range of festive celebrations organised around the Maltese Islands, make it very easy for you to get into the Christmas spirit.
Explore popular festive dishes, a Christmas menu you can opt for, last-minute Christmas gift ideas, what to do on Christmas eve, gifts for every family member, and how to prepare for a perfect Christmas lunch.
Planning your next public holiday? Do note that offices and banks would be closed on public and national holidays. However, shops, restaurants, entertainment centres, and tourist attractions, usually remain open, in a bid to attract people who are out enjoying their day off. A number of companies, especially banks, also have two bank holidays, mainly Boxing Day and Easter Monday, so don't plan any errands on these days.
In the meantime, a day off calls for an exquisite lunch or dinner at one of your local favourite restaurants, so book your table now!
Keep on discovering local with Yellow!