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Festival at start of olive-picking season

Event celebrates the revival of rural industrial activity highly prevalent in Punic/Roman times

Żejtun is preparing to celebrate Żejt iż-Żejtun – the start of the olive-picking and pressing season – on Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

The name Żejtun means olive, and it is invariably associated with olive tree cultivation in all Semitic/Arab-speaking cultures. Indeed, Żejt iż-Żejtun celebrates the revival of a rural industrial activity that was highly prevalent in Malta during Punic/Roman times, but was long neglected and almost totally forgotten.

However, since the late 1970s, a fresh reappraisal of pure olive oil as an intrinsic element of the typically Mediterranean diet, conductive to a healthy lifestyle, has generated renewed interest, which has resulted in great impetus for olive tree cultivation on a large scale and the production of olive oil.

A pioneer in this field was Sam Cremona, who spearheaded the project that has reintroduced the typical Maltese olive tree, with its particular pale green fruit.

Organised by Żejtun local council, the festivity’s focal point is the blessing of freshly-picked olives on the parish church parvis and the pressing of the olives, followed by free tasting of slices of Maltese ftajjar dressed in freshly-pressed virgin olive oil. All this occurs amid Maltese folk music, singing and dancing accompanying a défilé of village folk and farmers on carts carrying the olive harvest.

Drummers and flag-bearers will provide a colourful background for several re-enactments, stretching from the centre of Żejtun to the precints of the old medieval parish church, which will be open to the public.

At the chapel of St Mary in the upper village, the Napoleonic French occupation of Żejtun will be re-enacted, while the chapel of Tas-Salvatur in the lower village will host performances of Maltese-style commedia dell’arte.

Żejtun is proud to be a protagonist in celebrating this revived heritage. The locality’s two civic bands will participate in the event, and all churches, clubs and places ofinterest will be open for visitors.

On Sunday morning, the festival will continue with several folk activities, band music and a défilé of horses for an animal blessing. There will also be, of course, the actual olive pressing itself. All are welcome to participate.

■ Żejt iż-Żejtun starts on Saturday at 7.30pm and continues on Sunday at 8am.

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