It’s a public holiday, meaning that the majority of us have a day off. It’s got something to do with Buskett and if you’re lucky enough, you may probably know that it’s a Christian feast, and if you’re even luckier, you’re probably aware that the protagonist saints are St Peter and St Paul. But what is l-Imnarja really about?

It is a festival

It officially falls on June 29th, but celebrations start on June 28th, making it a whole festival characterised by folk music and agrarian exhibitions. Just like any other festa, l-Imnarja is tied to culinary traditions, meaning that food and drink are part and parcel of the celebrations, with the main dish being rabbit stew. However, l-Imnarja is also celebrated in Nadur, here in the festa style typical of village feasts.

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A long-established tradition

Dating back to the Knights of St John, l-Imnarja is said to be one of the oldest feasts celebrated on the islands. This celebration, that is centuries old, encapsualtes the real spirit of a rural Malta. The agrarian exhibition, which has helped to extend the feast to an exhibition and is held in Buskett, dates back to 1854.

A Meaningful Name

L-Imnarja is a loanword deriving from the Latin Luminare, meaning to illuminate. The festival gets its name from the tradition of bonfires and candles used to light the areas of Rabat and Buskett during nightime, in a time when electricity was still an unconceivable concept.

Horses  and Donkeys are Part of the Mix Too

Horse and donkey races are held in Triq it-Tiġrija (hence its name)  just underneath Saqqajja Hill and outside Mdina’s bastions. A trophy-banner presented to the winners, accoring to the respective categories they participate in, is called il-palju. In the times of the Order, the Grand Master himself used to hand out these colourful, brocade trophies from il-loġġa tal-Palju built in 1696 by Adrien de Wignacourt . The building on your left when going up the Saqqajja Hill is actually the lodge from where the Grand Matser used to watch the races, which in olden times featured boys, men and slaves too.

It remains a Religious Feast

L-Imnarja is a predominantly cultural tradition, but ultimately it remains a religious feast commemorating St Peter, the first Pope, and St Paul, considered to be an apostle. Mass and processions with the participation of the Metropolitan Capital and the Archbishop take place on June 28th and 29th in Mdina, specifically at the Metrapolitian Cathedral of St Paul.

This year’s Imnarja is organised by the Rural Festivities Unit within the Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights. Arts Council and the Agrarian Soc are collaborating. L-Imnarja is also celebrated in Nadur, in the festa style typical of the village feasts.