The Feast of St Joseph is a public holiday in Malta to honour and learn from the example of Joseph the husband of Mary and legal earthly father of Jesus.
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March 19th is celebrated as the Feast of Saint Joseph in other lands too, such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, and Canada. It is mostly kept as a special date by Roman Catholics, but some Lutherans and Anglicans keep the feast as well.
The Feast of Saint Joseph has been observed as a day of special remembrance since the 10th Century A.D., and thus, the traditions involved run very deep. The holiday always occurs during Lent, and therefore, feasting tables are meatless, except for fish, though certainly not “impoverished” as to flavour. The date is normally set on March 19th, but can be moved when necessary to better “fit into” the Lenten and Easter season Calendar.
In Malta, the main celebrations are held in Mdina, a suburb of the city of Rabat. Mdina is the “old capital” of Malta, before the government relocated to Valletta. As with the other 14 public Maltese holidays, most businesses close down for the Feast of Saint Joseph.
The Biblical account of Joseph is found in the four Gospels, including in Mathew chapters one and two. There, Joseph was contemplating divorcing Mary privately over what he supposed was unfaithfulness, to avoid causing her public shame. God informed Joseph in a dream that Mary was “with child of the Holy Spirit” and that he should call the child “Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” Later, God told him to flee to Egypt to escape the jealous wrath of King Herod and to return once Herod had died. Joseph supported his family in Nazareth as a carpenter and is now the patron saint of carpenters in Catholic theology. He is not heard of later in the Gospels, presumably because he had passed away before the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Three things to watch for if in Malta for the Feast of Saint Joseph are:
- Special masses, which are held at the National Sanctuary of Saint Joseph, the Church of Saint Mary of Jesus, and some other locations on the day of, the eve of, and during the week preceding the Feast of Saint Joseph.
- Colourful processions with accompanying musical bands will march through the streets of Rabat on the feast day. You will hear marching music and festive hymns by several bands at several different times of day. The main procession takes place in the evening when the statue of Saint Joseph is carried from the National Sanctuary of Saint Joseph to the Church of Saint Mary of Jesus, but the relics of Saint Joseph are carried in a separate procession on the day before.
- Watch the fireworks. Before, during, and following the processions, there will be numerous fireworks displays in different parts of Malta, along with colourful flares set off in the sky. Especially look for the fireworks by the triumphal arch and at end of the weekend’s events.