Full gun salutes, a procession, a marching band, street decorations and an unfathomable amount of confetti: the Maltese people certainly know how to rustle up a celebration.
Malta is a Catholic country, and has been since St Paul was shipwrecked on the island back in 60AD and proceeded to convert the local population. So every year, on 10th February, Malta celebrates this occasion in its history with a public holiday.
Which means that if you’re on Malta on 10th February, then Valletta is the place to be.
Huge fabric hangings waft across the streets, while garlands festooned with lights cross from building to building. Stalls selling nougat and halva pop up right across the city, and everywhere you look there are people: eating, chatting together, partying in the streets, preparing confetti, and listening (and sometimes singing) to the apparently tireless marching band.
At noon, the Saluting Battery fires all of its cannons in celebration of the feast day. Even on ordinary days, they fire one cannon at noon, which is worth seeing – after all, how often do you get to see someone fire a cannon, outside of a pirate film? But on the Feast of St Paul Shipwrecked they fire them all at midday, and then fire one on it’s own at 4pm.
As it happened, the crowds at the midday cannon fire were too thick, which meane that we didn’t get to see anything except the smoke and other people’s phone and camera screens. But we had a pretty good view of the afternoon cannon fire from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. (Best place to watch it from without paying to get into the Saluting Battery.)
The building at the centre of it all is The Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck. This average-sized church, tucked away down one of Valletta’s side streets, is fairly unremarkable from the outside. I think I’d have walked straight past it without even noticing, if it hadn’t been for the constantly coming and going crowds of people. Because on the feast day, the Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck holds back-to-back Mass in celebration.
The day culminates in the procession, when the Church of St Paul’s Shiprwreck’s huge (and very heavy-looking) statue of St Paul is carried from the church and through the streets.
By this point, the streets along the procession route are crammed with hundreds of people trying to get a glimpse of the statue as it passes. From the balconies, people throw bags and bags of cut-up-paper confetti. Down on the street, people look as though they’ve been caught in a jubilant snow storm, with white paper clinging to their hair and coats.
Being tied to particular meal times at our hotel on the north of the island, we had to leave straight after the procession, but it looked as though the evening was just getting started. Like all celebration days, I got the impression that the religious feast day would lead to a great party – or several!