Busting the Myth: the Santa Marija Edition

Santa Marija Ghaxaq - Photo: Stephen Baldacchino

“It’s here! The festa is here! Put on your t-shirt and join the march. I’m gonna be there!” This is probably what many residents residing in Mosta, Ħ’Attard, Mqabba, Qrendi, Gudja, Għaxaq and Victoria (Gozo) have been saying this morning to their family members and friends. Here are 8 impressions about Santa Marija, very often overlooked and ingrained in our common perception.

Santa Marija Dome - Photo: William Muscat
Santa Marija Dome (photo: William Muscat)

1. It has always been August 15th

August 15th instinctively brings to mind the feast of the assumption, but this date has not always been tied to the feast. In fact, the Catholic Church commemorated Mary’s ascension to heaven in January. The shift to August only occurred in the 6th century.

2. Another feast, another week of celebrations

Although the key events are held during the week leading to August 15th, it genuinely all kicks off on July 30th, with the Kwindiċina (quindici, fifteen), and comes to a halt on August 22nd, with the Ottava. Many parishes usually mark these two dates with traditional meals, such as a majjalata and a Maltese night. Yes, you’ve done your math very well. In all it sums up to 23 days of celebrations, not 7.

3. It’s only celebrated in 7 localities

Santa Marija, really and truly, is being celebrated in 7 localities. However, these are not the only ones. Dingli, Mġarr, Żebbuġ (Gozo), Birkirkara, Ħal Xluq (Siġġiewi) and Ħal Muxi (Ħaż-Żebbuġ) all celebrate Mary’s assumption during the coming days. And Comino too!

4. All statues are only carried shoulder high

All are carried shoulder high, but that of Comino first travels by boat from Gozo.

5. All piazzas are packed with vendors and people drinking booze

Although many show up for the marches with a drink or two in hand, and stop there, others do things differently. Comino for instance celebrates the feast with a traditional meal, a procession of the statue from the boat to the chapel and a Holy Mass. Furthermore, Ħal Xluq and Ħal Muxi, both clad in colourful bright flags and banners, usually thrive in traditional fairs and food. Furthermore, organisers at Ħal Xluq provide all attendees of the 7am Holy Mass with coffee and tea.

Santa marija ghaxaq - Photo: Mr Adrian Zahra
Piazzas in the morning and afternoon take centre stage during the annual marċ. (photo: Adrian Zahra)

6. A holiday for all

Santa Marija is the one festa that sends an exodus of Maltese and Gozitans to and fro the island. Whilst some might be enjoying their one day holiday in Gozo, many others will be sorrowfully counting down the hours before their summer recess (known in common parlance as Ix-Shutdown ta’ Santa Marija) comes to an end.

Santa Marija Gozo Channel - Photo: Carlston Grima
The ferry between the sister islands passing by Comino. The islet celebrates the feast too. (Photo: Carlston Grima)

7. The convoy was called The Convoy of Santa Maria, and it’s a ship

It’s a public holiday precisely because back in World War II, on the brink of collapse and surrender, the Maltese were rescued by a convoy full of provisions. A convoy is not one ship, but a collection of ships travelling together. The convoy that had to reach Malta comprised of 14 ships in total, 9 of which were sunk. It was dubbed The Convoy of Santa Maria because the Ohio, the most besieged tanker, reached our shores on August 15th 1942.

8. All roads are closed, just walk

Although many roads are closed, given the huge number of localities celebrating the feast, some roads will still remain accessible. Take a look at this notice to learn which roads best to avoid.

Santa Marija Traffic - Photo: Deborah Fenech
Festa celebrations in the evening cause bottlenecks in the 7 main villages. (Photo: Deborah Fenech)