The Feast of Our Lady of Victories, or in shorter form “Victory Day”, is a Maltese public holiday falling on every September 8th.
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Victory Day was originally known as Il-Bambina (Baby Mary) Day and designed to celebrate the nativity of the Virgin Mary. This aspect of the holiday persists, but today, it also commemorates several victories of the Maltese people over their enemies, which stretch across several centuries of the island’s tumultuous existence.
After the great victory of the Knights of Saint John over the Turkish invaders in 1565, the holiday began to be called “Il-Madona tal Vitorja” (Our Lady of Victories). The knights had come to defend and rule the island of Malta in 1530, after Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, had given them that right in exchange for the annual tribute of a Maltese falcon.
Previously, the island had already had great Muslim-Christian conflicts, beginning in 827, when Arab invaders wiped out most of the Christian inhabitants and later repopulated the island with Muslims. In 1224, however, with Malta now back in Christian hands, there was an expulsion of the Arab population and a recolonizing with Christian settlers. More recently, the knights themselves had been driven out of the east-Mediterranean island of Rhodes by the Turks, and in 1522, the Arab Barbary Pirates from North Africa had captured the whole population of the Maltese isle of Gozo and sold them as slaves in Libya.
The Turkish siege began on May 18th, 1565 and had lasted four bloody months until September 11th of the same year. While Spaniards and some other Maltese troops did their part as well, it was mostly the bravery and tenacity of the Knights of Saint John, along with their fortifications, that won the battle.
The second victory that Victory Day commemorates is that of the Maltese people over the French invaders in September of 1800. Napoleon had seized the island after Malta’s ruler refused his navy permission to dock in the harbor on their way to Egypt. The British came to the aid of the Maltese rebels and long controlled the island from that point on.
Finally, Victory Day also remembers the heroic resistance of Malta against the Axis bombing campaign during World War II, for which King George VI of the UK gave them the George Cross, which appears on their flag to this day. Specifically, it looks back to the end of the bombings in 1943, after Italy switched to the Allied cause.
Those touring Malta on Victory Day may wish to take part in any of the following activities:
- In the morning, watch the official military parade and the ceremony of the president inspecting the Honour Guard in Valletta. There will also be a ceremonially laying of flowers and a wreath at the Great Siege Monument.
- In the afternoon, see the regatta in Grand Harbor, where boat rowing competitors from all across Malta gather to display the fighting spirit that won the victories of the past in a new, more entertaining context.
- In the evening, attend a mass honouring the birth of Mary, which is held in towns of Senglea, Naxxar, Xaghra, and Mellieha on Victory Day. At Mellieha, and in other locations, you can also see celebratory fireworks displays.
Malta’s strategic position in the central Mediterranean Sea has long made it a contested island, and Victory Day celebrates the bravery of those who defended it, besides having its religious significance.