Greasing up for St. Julian – A greasy pole is part of a religious festival
Unconventional worship with a gostra in Malta

Since the 1800s, a Maltese town has celebrated its patron saint by scrabbling to the top of a greasy pole.

A competitor tries to grab a flag on the “gostra”, a pole covered in lard, as he falls off it during the celebrations for the religious feast of St Julian, patron of the town of St Julian’s, Malta, August 20, 2017.

The much-loved greasy pole competition is the highlight of the Feast of St. Julian.

Four flags are placed at the very end of the 65-foot pole.

Competitors run up the pole in 15-minute intervals to remove as much lard as possible before attempting the dash for a flag.

The practice, which dates back to the 1800s, has recently been extended to allow children, seven and up, to take part in the game.

Got it! (Above) A Gostra contestant manages to get hold of the first flag. Photo: Chris Mangion/MaltaToday

Although the word itself is Italian-derived, the gostra dates back to the Neopolitan game of Cockaigne pole.

Each of the flags on the greasy pole has a religious meaning.

The blue and white flag represents the Holy Mary, the yellow and white flag shows the Vatican standard, and the Belgian tricolor represents the homeland of St Julian.

Whether they win or lose, the competitors all wind up in the drink.

“While I stand there right before I go up, I have a bad feeling in my gut that something might go wrong — which is very common — but the adrenaline rush overcomes that bad feeling, which pushes me to go,” said competitor Ivan Bartoli, 21.

The choice facing competitors is clear –do they dive forward for glory, or try to make a soft landing?

Tactics range from dives to koala-bear type clinging.

Interested in taking part?

To enter, you must be a resident of St Julian’s and be willing to help set up decorations for the village feast.

Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.