Freedom Day in Malta is significant - here's why and what to expect.
While for many locals, the very fact of a paid public holiday is the main thing to know about the day, others are deeply involved in the history or tradition tied in with Freedom Day in Malta. Here's a closer look at what it's all about.
What is Freedom Day?
As the name suggests, it is a day of celebrating freedom. But, freedom from what? Well, for the first time in a millennium, back in 1979, Malta became independent de facto as well as de jure. There was no more foreign occupation, no more foreign power, no more foreign military nor a foreign naval base; from this day, it would be just Malta and the Maltese.
When is it?
Freedom Day (Jum il-Helsien in Maltese) is celebrated annually on 31st March.
What does it commemorate?
This is actually the anniversary of the withdrawal of the last British troops and the Royal Navy from Malta, in 1979. The Maltese had already acquired Independence from the British on 21st September 1964, when the first Maltese Government was elected. However, a lease agreement allowed the British authorities use of the island as a military and naval base, which was revised in 1971 and finally terminated in 1979.
The official activities commemorating this day are well-attended. The main events take place at the Freedom Day Monument in Birgu (Vittoriosa) and at the War Memorial in Floriana. Traditionally, the Grand Harbour hosts a competitive regatta.
What to expect
The Freedom Monument at Birgu (Vittoriosa)
The Freedom Memorial in Birgu is especially dedicated to this occasion, and the main activities commemorating the day revolve around it. It is an official affair that is attended by the President of Malta and the media. Expect plenty of formalities, speeches, bands and marches!
The War Memorial in Floriana
More ceremonial celebrations are happening at the War Memorial in Floriana. Again, a formal affair involving plenty of pomp and ceremony.
The Regatta (with a caveat)
Normally, the Freedom Day Regatta takes place today, where thousands of spectators line the nooks and crannies overlooking the Grand Harbour hoping to catch a vantage point of the races. Valletta, the Three Cities (Birgu, Bormla and Isla) and a few other coastal towns compete enthusiastically to the encouraging screams from the crowd in the first of two annual rowing race events in Malta; the other being on Victory Day (8th September), which marks the departure of the Turkish invasion. This year, since Freedom Day falls on the Saturday of Easter Weekend (where any kind of enjoyment is forbidden!), the traditional regatta is being moved to 7th April, one week later, to form part of a Valletta 2018 event called Il-Festa l-Kbira.
Good to know
As we already mentioned, this is a National Holiday. This means that most shops are closed, many services are unavailable and pretty much everything comes to a halt, It's a day to observe with honour or simply do your own thing!
Bonus: What else is there to do?
My personal favourite way to spend the day is at the beach. And I know that this is true for many locals, judging by the number of people at the beach so early in spring! The good weather has already started, temperatures are rising, it's fun to be in a bikini in the middle of the day and bearable to have a swim (if water at approximately 16 degrees doesn't put you off). And so Maltese families and groups of friends populate the beaches on 31st March. Now doesn't a day frolicking on the beach sound quite apt for a day celebrating Freedom?