Like many places, Gozo is at the same time a very strange and very similar place to us, especially when it comes to holidays. They celebrate Christmas and Halloween just like we do in the US (although both are a bit more subdued) and several other holidays line up, while other holidays like May Day are completely new to us.
One of the more unique celebrations in the villages in Gozo are their feast celebrations that honor the patron saints of the dozen or so main villages in Gozo. Both Gozo and Malta are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic so all the religious feasts and celebrations are in that vein.
The history of these religious feasts goes back to the 16th century, with the larger ones week-long celebrations that are capped with a parade on the last day — complete with brass bands — and the congregation and much of the village turning out to walk through the streets carrying a statue of the saint being honored before returning to the main church on the town square.
They serve a dual purpose as far as being a religious celebration to remember and honor the patron saint of the village as well as a social event, with everyone turning out
Most villages have one primary feast each year as well as a few smaller ones; Xaghra’s big feast is the feast of The Nativity of Our Lady in September but they also honor Saint Joseph as well with a small feast in May, which was held today and was the first chance we’d had to see the parade capping the celebration.
It’s actually been a running joke for us as we seem to manage to miss feasts and other celebrations and parades; our joke is that the word gets out that “The Shafers are coming!” and everything shuts down and they run and hide, waiting for us to leave when we show up for what we think should be the right time for a parade or celebration only to find absolutely nothing going on at all.
That actually seemed to be the case today as the parade was supposed to start at 5:00 PM but it was close to 6:30 before things got underway. This time we were stubborn, though, and waited it out.
Xaghra is home to one of the larger brass bands on the island, with the Victory Band Club kicking off the parade by marching and playing from their band hall to the town square. They made a small circuit of the square then waited by the church for the priests to emerge, carrying various crosses and other artifacts before the massive statue of Saint Joseph was carried out.
The band then began playing again and led the march out of the square and down the village streets, with the congregation from inside the church following behind the statue and onlookers at the square then joining in as well as the procession makes its way through town before returning to the church.
I’m very far from identifying myself as a religious type of any sort but I do find ceremonies like this pretty fascinating, especially when based on icons and statues and artifacts that are centuries old that are still used to build and maintain bonds between parishioners.
The idea of bringing the statue out of the church was particularly striking to me, as far as a really obvious but effective way of bringing religion (or God or whatever you choose to call it) directly to the people to both celebrate and be a part of.
It’s still “church” as far as people wearing their Sunday best and kids forced to be on their best behavior but kind of cool to celebrate it with brass bands and parades and a walk through the village streets with your neighbors instead of never-ending sermons and increasingly polarized stances on who’s on the guest list for heaven and who’s
And that’s more than enough religious talk…
My wife the band geek definitely had a good time, even grilling one poor guy about what strange instrument he was playing (an alto blah blah blah…I can occasionally identify a tuba on a good day) as he tried to get lined up for them to play their next song.