As the majority of Malta’s population is Catholic, they observe the Feast of the Assumption of Mary every August 15th as a public holiday.
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The Feast of the Assumption is a religious festival observed primarily by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers, which is meant to commemorate the mysterious “assumption” of the Virgin Mary’s body and soul to heaven.
In Malta, the feast is held in seven different municipalities throughout the main island of Malta and the lesser isle of Gozo. The feast has loomed large in the course of Maltese history and is celebrated with great devotion and fanfare, sometimes for the full week leading up to August 15th.
As an example of how the celebrations proceed, we can take the ceremonies held in Mqabba, where Santa Maria (Holy Mary) has been honoured in this manner for over four centuries. In Mqabba, celebratory events run from July 30th till August 22nd, though the most important parts of the festival occur between the 9th and 15th.
Bands march through the streets every day during this period, ending in the village square, where further activities await. On the August 10th, the King George V Band holds a concert with musical performances from different genres and eras. At the end of each night’s events, there will be fireworks displays, which is actually “standard” for nearly every holiday in Malta. On the 14th day of August, a grand fireworks event that is done “in sync with” accompanying music is a major attraction.
Finally, on the 15th, a special Marian mass is held, wherein the life story and virtuousness of Mary “Mother of God” is presented and praised profusely. Come evening time, Mary’s statue is carried out of the church and through the streets, while the people pray and sing to her all along the way. When the statue makes a circuit all the way back to the church building, the procession ends.
Things to do if in Malta during the Feast of the Assumption include:
- Besides the events in Mqabba and other towns, attend some events in Mosta. Here is the Church of Saint Mary, with its blazing red columns, huge rotunda and dome, and two towers bearing both clock faces and bells. You can even ascend the bell tower and catch an amazing view across the landscape below. Inside the church, there are exceedingly tall candles lit for the occasion, and the whole interior is intricately decorated. The streets and adjacent square are adorned with lights and decorations, in preparation for the Marian procession.
- Visit Mdina, a small, walled city with architecture dating to Medieval times. It was once the capital of Malta but now is a town of only 300. Yet, it is packed with cathedrals, palaces, and other sights to see like centuries-old city gates, the Mdina Dungeons, the National Museum of Natural History, and just outside the city walls, the remains of an ancient Roman dwelling place.
- Visit Rabat, a city of over 10,000 situated right next to Mdina. Here, you will find a Roman villa, churches and palaces, and two different ancient Roman catacomb networks. The first, Saint Paul’s Catacombs, is said by some to be the spot where Paul stayed while in Malta. The second, Saint Agatha’s Catacombs, mostly has the graves of children, along with decorative frescoes.
Those touring Malta during the Feast of the Assumption will find both official celebrations and the whole island before them to explore.