Summer feasts started out as traditional devotions in honour of the patron saints, whom the natives of the towns and villages venerated. The communities depended on the saints’ intercessory powers for favourable outcomes and also in desperate times of poverty, plagues and misfortune.
Originally, feasts in Gozo were a celebration of thanksgiving to the saints who intervened with favours for both blessings and protection. The euphoria of the modern-day summer feasts has possibly less of the devotional. It also echoes less of the supernatural, but there is no doubt that the bacchanalia gels together the modern community and the rivalry between the villages fuels the passion for colossal celebrations!
Here’s what you should not miss of the village feasts in Gozo in 2023!
1. Band Marches and Street Parties
There is no summer feast without the band, made up of brass, wind and precussion instruments. In Gozo, most of the villages have their own band club and this means that there is no shortage of music street celebrations. Bands accompany the devotional religious processions and also the exuberant merrymakers throughout the Gozo festa. The latter is a camaraderie of youths who dance to the band marches, often wearing the same festa T-shirt, pretty much like a sports team wears the same gear. The revellers will dance and sing to the band marches amid volleys of confetti blasted unto the crowd and downpours of balloons. While each Gozo feast has its own unique peculiarity in its celebration, make sure you witness the ‘Umbrellun’, a gigantic larger-than-can-ever-be imagined-umbrella in some villages like Xewkija. This is opened in the village square and youths will dance under its shade. In Għajnsielem you cannot miss noticing that many of the local youths will be wearing different outfits sewn from the same patterned textile. This is a festa tradition that has been going on for years in the village!
2. Fireworks Displays
From ground to sky fireworks there’s always more noise and colour to the village summer festa. There can be no Gozo feast without the noisy petards, the popping muskets sprouting off fountain showers in different colours and the amazing multi-coloured sky fireworks that light up the Gozitan sky. Pyrotechnics in Gozo https://www.visitgozo.com/blog/is-fire-in-the-sky-a-true-story/ have a long tradition and nowadays some feasts in Gozo are notorious for the firework displays synchronised to music.
3. Joyful Street Decorations
When you visit the village celebrating the summer festa, take a moment to check the street decorations. Be dazzled by lights mounted into an elaborate pattern and the strings of light that make up the night scene magical. In many ways, it gives the ambience of entering a fairy village! Festoons in different colours, pavilions, triumphal arches and banners depicting saints and village patrons are all part of the lore of the Gozo feast. Many people decorate their houses and balconies. Even residential flag poles are lighted up and framed paintings or photographs of the saint are also hung outside.
4. Grand Churches and Church Music
The church glows like a beacon with a million lights. Inside, the beautiful and rich damask adorns the walls, and occasional church vestments will be taken out. Golden embroidered motifs studded with semiprecious stones, silver statuettes and ‘ganutell’ (beaded and wired) flowers are all on display. Each parish will have an extensive programme of events. One key celebration is the taking out the statue of the patron saint from the niche where it resides all year round. The triduum and the pontifical mass on the feast day are days when you can enjoy orchestral and organ music complete with choirs and soloists.
5. Ceremonial and Splendid Processions
The main procession with the saint, happening on Sunday evening is usually the main event of the summer feast. The cheers of the crowd, the tolling bells, the solemn salute of the petards and the deafening applause as the statue appears on the church parvis is a real spectacle! Watch out for this amazing scene of the statue of Saint George that is welcomed with palm fronds. The statues of the saints are carried through the streets, along with any religious relics in a procession involving priests, altar boys, flag and standard bearers. As the procession makes its round through the village or town, there will be flurries of fettucine-style confetti that children enjoy dishing out from their home balconies. The Gozitan streets will be covered with confetti. For the Gozitan children, this is the closest that they will ever get to snow and hence ‘confetti’ fights ensue! Victoria is also notorious for the closure of the Santa Marija procession where the statue is carried up the Cathedral staircase in the light of hundreds of sparklers.
6. Festa Food Stalls
Children will be attracted to the candyfloss and popcorn stalls. Ice cream, lemon granita and slush are also among the favourites. These are the original festa food stalls but recent additions include the doughnut and creperie stands. On the savoury side, cheesecakes (pastizzi), pizza and also hot-dog and burger stalls provide a quick bite to those opting not to sit down at restaurants or bars. If this is your first Gozitan festa, make sure you check out the nougat stand! The hard brown candy that looks like amber with fossilised nuts is difficult to crack but a delight to taste.
You can find a full list of village summer feasts in Gozo in 2023 below, but there is no doubt that once you are on the island, it’s very easy to figure out which village is in the midst of summer feast celebrations. Look out for the area with the most flags on rooftops and watch out for the firework bangs at different times of the day!
4th – St. Anthony of Padua, Għajnsielem
11th – Corpus Christi, Għasri
18th – Sacred Heart of Jesus, Fontana
25th – St John the Baptist, Xewkija
29th – St. Peter and St. Paul, Nadur
2nd – Visitation of Our Lady, Għarb
9th – Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Kerċem
16th – St George Martyr, Victoria
23rd – St. Margaret, Sannat
6th – St Joseph, Qala
10th – St Lawrence, San Lawrenz
15th – The Assumption of Our Lady: Victoria
20th – The Assumption of Our Lady, Żebbuġ
27th – Our Lady of Loreto, Għajnsielem
3rd – Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Xlendi
8th – The Nativity of Our Lady, Xagħra
17th – Our Lady of Graces, Victoria