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Victory Day: Explained
Every year, on the 8 of September, the Maltese islands celebrate Victory Day, one of our five national holidays. The day has both historic and religious connotations, as it’s also marked by the Catholic church as the traditional date of Mary’s nativity.
Let’s get into the history, shall we?
The historic connections of Victory Day are threefold. Arguably the most significant is the lifting of the siege of the Ottomans, in 1565; the famed Great Siege of Malta. Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’s forces had surrounded the island since May of the same year, with an army of more than 50,000 men, including 6,000 Janissaries – the Sultan’s elite crack troops, as well as a host of soldiers, adventurers, volunteers and religious servants, joined by a crew of corsairs from Tripoli and Algiers. The huge force far outweighed the Knights’ tally of just 6,000, which included 3,000 Maltese recruits, soliders from Spain, Greece, Italy and Sicily and 600 Knights. In spite of their impressive numbers, Sultan Suleiman’s men only managed to capture Fort St Elmo during the four months of relentless bombardment. Meanwhile, the tiny towns of Birgu and Senglea held out against all odds.
St Elmo, though much smaller then than we know it to be today, remained standing for more than a month, despite being an isolated fort on an uninhabited peninsula, which later became Valletta. Impending bad weather, fatigue and the news of a much-awaited Christian relief force finally coming to the aid of the besieged, finally put an end to Sultan’s dreams and the siege was finally lifted on the 8 of September, 1565. The Knights’ rule ended with a meek capitulation to Napoleon’s forces in 1798, but the Maltese population rebelled against their new masters rather quickly. The French garrison was besieged in Valletta itself, with the city blockaded from the sea by the British Navy.
The French, who were on the brink of starvation and death, eventually capitulated in early September of 1800. Thus, the 8th of the month came to commemorate this event, too. Finally, Malta’s Second World War siege was also lifted on the 8 of September, in 1943. Following more than three years of aerial bombardment from Italy’s Regia Autonautica, as well as the Luftwaffe, the Allied invasion of Sicily forced Italy’s formal surrender on 8th September, effectively ending Malta’s prolonged suffering in the war. Not to mention that Italy’s surrender was a tad sweet for the Maltese population as several battleships belonging to the Italian Navy were made to sail to the Grand Harbour and St Paul’s Bay, to ensure that they were not used by the German forces, who were still in the process of fighting the war.
As if the three linked historical events were not enough for the 8th of September to be celebrated, there is also, as previously mentioned, a religious aspect, too. The Nativity of Mary, or rather, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on the same day and has been celebrated on the 8th since at least the sixth century. A September birth was chosen as the date helped determine the date for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is celebrated on the 8 of December.
How to celebrate Victory Day
As you can imagine, the Maltese take Victory Day very seriously and therefore, celebrations begin the day before, as literary readings, music and artistic performances take place in Great Siege Square in Valletta. On the 8th, the Armed Forces of Malta parade on Republic Street in the Capital, till they reach the Co-Cathedral of St John, where they salute the Prime Minister and the Maltese national anthem is played.
A mass for the highest-ranking officers is held later on in the day and to mark the event, Malta’s President places a symbolic garland at the foot of the Great Siege monument, to commemorate the victims.
There’s more. The primary activity associated with the holiday is the traditional regatta, which takes place in the Grand Harbour, with the best crews forming part of the rowing teams from the cities bordering the Harbour.
In Gozo, there is also a commemorative ceremony that takes place on the day, which is held in Independence Square in Rabat and is presided by the Minister for Gozo. The Armed Forces of Malta are involved in a parade and finally, they place a wreath at the foot of the War Memorial, which is dedicated to Christ the King of Jews.