MALTA DIARY: For the ONE and ONLY time? Unusual festa spectacle in Valletta
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The people of Malta and Gozo thrive on bitter rivalry, best manifested in local politics, pride in parish festas – even more pronounced when there is more than one parish in a city, town or village, and football whether local or international.
Let me give you some examples. The once-a-village but now the town of Qormi has two main parishes, one dedicated to St George and the other to St Sebastian. There are some that would rather die after extreme torture than be seen in the vicinity when it’s festa time of the rival parish in case their presence is taken as being in attendance to join the celebrations, or approving of them.
For these, the days of the rival parish festa are a time to book an overseas holiday or go off to Gozo for the weekend to ensure a wide-berth miss.
I am from Sliema and was always football crazy and a fanatic of our home team Sliema Wanderers. Our colours are light blue and dark blue or blue and white. In my boyhood, our great rival team were Floriana with their “Irish” colours of green and white as they were known as the “Floriana Irish”.
My dear late mother Pauline once had the audacity to buy a green jacket for me to keep me warm! I simply refused to wear it and I never did despite entreaties, pleading and threats of punishment until she finally gave up and gave it away.
But this is 2018, an auspicious year for capital city Valletta holding the status of European Capital for Culture during these 12 months. Special times require special arrangements and special sacrifices.
Now, Valletta has four main parishes, these being St Paul Shipwreck, St Dominic, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Augustine – not in any order of precedence or preference I hasten to add. The major bitter rivals are St Paul with their famed La Valette Band Club and St Dominic with their equally famed King’s Own Band Club.
Never, ever make the fatal error of praising one in the presence of a rival supporter, bound to result in a volley of insulting obscenity and firm suggestions as to what to do with one’s praises.
The mere concept of these two rival factions ever holding a joint festa would have been sufficient to have one committed to an asylum for psychiatric treatment.
Yet, and yet, this has actually happened – and all in honour of Valletta 18 and its proud tenure of EU Capital for Culture. The sacrifices that one has to make!
The weekend of April 7th dawned to the previously bizarre prospect of Valletta’s four parishes holding a joint festa – the brainchild of the Valletta 18 Organisation Committee which has based its cultural year on the traditions and customs of the Maltese Festa – on the understanding they would still hold their own festa celebrations, St Paul in February, St Dominic in August etc.
The joint idea was for each of the parishes to have its own band club playing festive marches and the traditional procession with their titular statues and a joint spectacular fireworks display.
The four processions, statues and bands approached central St George’s Square in front of the Presidential Palace, by different routes and all met in the square for robust celebrations.
It worked, and went off smoothly and all were pals for the day and bitter rivalry temporarily set aside. Thousands attended and joined in the unusual celebration.
Will it ever be repeated or was this just a one-off when the peace pipe was smoked and the hatchet buried? Probably – but at least, on this one and only time it was a resounding success.
“He who has nothing has nothing to lose”
In a situation where it’s best to take a gamble that might pay off as opposed to having nothing and remaining with nothing by not taking a gamble.