Celebrating Saint Martin’s Day on the Maltese Islands
Saint Martin’s Day, or ‘Jum San Martin’ in Maltese, has bore great significance in Malta for centuries. The feast is celebrated every year on the Sunday closest to November 11, it being Sunday 12 November this time around.
For those who are not familiar with his tale, St. Martin was born in Pannonia (now part of Hungary) and lived between 316 and 397 AD. He was an army officer of the Roman empire, who had stumbled upon a poor man shivering in the cold on the road. St. Martin took pity on the man, and cut his red military cloak in half to share it with him. According to legend, Christ appeared to him in a dream that night, draped in that very same piece of cloak, and said to him: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised: he has clad me.” St Martin then left the army for a life of priesthood, going on to become the Bishop of Tours in France.
The story has been immortalised in many paintings, notably in ‘Saint Martin Dividing his Cloak’ by the 17th century Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck. While the feast is celebrated in multiple European countries, it is given more significance in Malta. There are usually a handful of public St Martin events scattered around the islands, but the most notable and most frequented one is ‘Il-Fiera l-Kbira ta’ San Martin’ (‘The Big Fair of St Martin). As the town where the church of St Martin is located, it is naturally held in the Baħrija countryside.
Il-Fiera l-Kbira ta' San Martin
The annual event sees the streets come to life from 10 am onwards, lined with stalls offering various traditional food and drink (including ‘imbuljuta tal-qastan’ and ‘imqaret’) artisan products, and more. Plus, parents can buy the traditional ‘Borża ta’ San Martin’ for their kids, a surprise cloth bag full of fruits and nuts. There’s even a bunch of rides including a bouncy castle for them to enjoy. Those who practise catholic faith can even attend a celebratory mass at 7 am, 9 am, or 10:30 am. What’s more, there will be several performances and exhibitions held throughout the fair, including historical reenactments, traditional ‘Għana’ music, dancing, singers of all backgrounds, as well as some mediaeval attractions – and that’s not even all of it.
See for yourselves this Sunday, 12 November. Entrance is free, all you have to do is be there. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the occasion while immersing yourself in Maltese folklore.