The public holiday known as L-Imnajra that falls on 29 June has to be one of Malta’s most obscure in origin and defies neat description. In the religious calendar, the day marks the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, but this Maltese celebration, which starts on the night of 28 June and carries on all the next day into evening, is probably less to do with religion and more about rural life, country past-times and folk music.
It’s a bit of a medley really. It’s also associated with one place only in Malta, as people flock to celebrate it in Buskett Gardens that lie between Rabat and Dingli. It’s a family affair with people taking picnics and tents to spend a night out under the small pines which make up Malta’s largest stretch of woodland, planted by the Knights as a hunting grounds.
The feast has roots dating back well before the time of the Knights in Malta. ‘L’Imnajra’ is the Maltese corruption of the Italian word ‘Luminara’ meaning festival of light. The feast’s celebrations were once marked by bonfires lit in Mdina and Rabat, so folklore has it.
What to Expect
The night is characterised by general merry-making and its sociable atmosphere, with people bringing along instruments and making music. Local folk and ethnic-inspired bands usually turn up to play and set the scene. Families have BBQs and picnics and kids romp around. Traditionally, people take rabbit (Fenek) stew to eat. It’s a Maltese national dish and there’s even a Maltese word for ‘going out to eat rabbit’ – Fenkata! Some families and groups of friends make a complete summer night of L’Imnarja and camp out.
The following day sees more organised rural pursuits: there is an agricultural show, which gets larger each year (seems to be a trend in Malta recently) as well as traditional bare-back horse and donkey races on Saqqajja Hill below Mdina. So expect some traffic chaos and roads blocked around that area.
If you want to see some real Malta, then this could be worth a visit. It’s not the sheer exuberance of a village feast, as it’s more a summer folklore and farming affair. But it does have a certain appeal and charm. You will need to bus it there (Bus 81 from Valletta seems the best bet). Take some food and drink, get stuck in, and go with the flow. This is an impromptu affair in some ways, where people make their own fun.
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Photo:rabbit: John Haslam. Guitar in firelight: Ben Kunesh