Our traditions

Last Updated on Thursday, 8 June, 2023 at 1:09 pm by Andre Camilleri

During last week’s discussion and the presentation of the results of a survey commissioned by the Office of the President to examine the state of our nation, it transpired that the celebrations of our village feasts, “il-festa”, and the Good Friday procession are what primarily defines us as Maltese in terms of culture and traditions. Now that the results of the survey are out for public consumption, we reckon that Maltese identify with these important annual events. Let’s leave food for a minute.  

If we had any shred of doubt that these annual events are losing their purpose surely it is not the case, as people strongly identify with these traditions. Personally, I think that we must invest more to preserve them. Those who know both of us as a couple, are cognisant of the fact that we both love the Maltese cultural heritage. Obviously, my spouse more than me.

However, it is important to note that the foreign population that is working and living in Malta does not necessarily align with our traditions. Some even whinge about the sound of the churches’ bells. Obviously, they are free not to identify with our traditions, as we live in a democratic European State. However, they must respect out traditions. Also, the increase in foreigners working and settling in Malta, in proportion to our population, as well as the decline in the fertility rate, is becoming quite visible. Certainly, if we carry on with the current economic model, we will need more foreign workers. The EU’s economic model is based on economic growth. And to attain growth an economy needs additional factors of production, including labour. As referred to by the Minister for Finance, it is projected that around 800,000 workers, living and working in Malta would be needed by 2040 if we keep professing the current economic model.

Clearly, if more workers are needed with the current fertility rate, authorities need to invest now to preserve our traditions. Surely, we would not be able to find so many dedicated volunteers. Most of our traditions are possible to be kept alive, thanks to the dedication of thousands of volunteers. Plainly, the dedication and the voluntary hours that are attached to organising a village feast are crucial for their existence. Actually, it is difficult to quantify it. Also, we must differentiate between the internal and external celebrations. They both require laborious work. Notwithstanding that the internal religious celebrations are somewhat different, still, the dedication of voluntary work in decorating our beautiful churches is striking. Normally, those who help with the external decorations, are in most of the times dispatched to do the voluntary work internally, as well. There are different branches that take care of the external celebrations of a village feast, from the street decorations known as “Għaqda tal-Armar”, another branch of the pyrotechnic and fireworks productions “Għaqda tan-Nar”, and also the Band Club “Każin tal-Banda”. There are others but normally these are the ones that feature prominently for the preparation of the external celebrations.

Generally, volunteers take almost 6 weeks to dismantle all the street decorations. Obviously, they would need another 6 to 8 weeks to mount all the street decorations, not to mention the months of preparation at the fireworks factory for the annual pyrotechnic and fireworks display. This means that in total a typical village feast requires over three months of dedicated workmanship and annual volunteering at the fireworks factory to host such an important annual event. Now, just imagine if we had to quantify the hours of voluntary work employed to have such an important annual event organised by our volunteers. That would translate in thousands of euros.

During the discussion, one of the panellists said that the last data collected and published by the local media showed that on average, an estimate of around €12,000 are spent on each village feast. The panellist was quoting data of 2012 which dates back to over a decade, and for which there is a clear underestimation. Someone sitting next to me told me that the figure is spent in the first half an hour on the day (“il-marċ”) of St Gaetan’s feast. Those in our proximity heard our giggles.

Over the years, especially last year, I had the opportunity to visit a few firework factories. I even suggested to the volunteer to try a pilot project and log the hours that they spend working voluntary on the production of fireworks. Clearly, it would be an arduous process. However, we would be able to get a rough estimation of the manhours employed to produce the fireworks for the annual event. While some of us seize the opportunity to gobble a hotdog or a burger while enjoying the fireworks display, we tend to forget the sacrifices and the voluntary work behind the preparations.

Needless to say, there is also the unquantifiable part, where the annual gathering serves to meet with those that we do not normally encounter during the year. Probably, they would be our childhood primary and secondary school mates. Indeed, we get to enjoy each other’s company, especially with those who do not reside in their town anymore. Certainly, village feasts are what defines our traditions, and it is also part of our cultural heritage. We must invest more to preserve our identity, including our architectural heritage. Malta is distinctive and entails a rich history.

Beyond village feasts, we have other annual events that are dear to us. The Good Friday procession, at least for me, serves as a period of reflection. Undoubtedly, I seize the opportunity to do some conscious examination, especially by questioning if I could have done more to help others. Surely, in such a rapid changing environment volunteers must be given full support to preserve society’s identity and traditions. Economically we progressed. Educationally and culturally, too.

Clearly, we are not longing the times where women had to stay at home parenting, while men work for the family. What we are actually longing for is the preservation of our identity, and our traditions, as well as the community life that we lived in the past. We are still in time to do it. What we need is just to switch off social media, transit from virtual life, and spend more time outdoors interacting with our community. Certainly, it would help us interact more and get involved with those who truly volunteer and work hard to preserve our traditions.  

And lastly, the adjustment of our economic model, might aid in also preserving our own traditions if we also opt for a higher added value of foreign direct investment.

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