Join the Carnival Merriment in Malta
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#AXperience the festival of colours and costumes in Valletta and Gozo.
Carnival in Malta, or Il-Karnival ta’ Malta as it’s referred to locally, is one of the most exciting celebrations on the island’s calendar of events, celebrated annually for around a week right before the start of Lent. For those who are a little more religious, it marks the last hoorah before the solemn period of Lent leading up to Easter, while for those less into religious customs, it’s another excuse to drink, be merry and party the nights away. The feast is an integral part of Maltese folklore and has existed since the arrival of the Knights of Saint John in 1530!
Celebrations usually kick off the Friday before Lent and last until Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The island is packed with things to do, churches to visit, festivals to partake in and of course, parties to attend!
The History & Traditions of Malta’s Carnival
Carnival is an old-age tradition celebrated across the world and one that has naturally seeped into local culture. It dates to 1530 when the Knights of the Order of St John ruled on the island. Historic Maltese traditions have been kept alive while more contemporary ones have weaved their way into the annual festivities. It is the most documented tradition in Malta, having just under five centuries of accredited history.
Back in the 16th century, nobles and cavaliers would don the finest wigs and clothing and attended tournaments, masked balls, and feasts in Birgu. The common folk, however, took to the streets wearing sheets, colourful clothing, grotesque masks, and sacks, celebrating the feast of fools together. And, of course, in true Maltese fashion, things got out of hand some years down the line and Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette had to enforce certain laws to keep celebrations controlled. In later years, during Grand Master Lascaris’ reign certain costume restrictions were imposed such as the prohibition of donning devil costumes, while women were banned from wearing masks and attending any of the balls that were hosted by the Knights.
Following the First World War, a Carnival Committee was set up which paved the way for the Carnival celebrations we celebrate nowadays. The committee came up with various categories and prizes, which naturally brought out the locals’ competitive natures. Dance companies, creative float makers and more would compete every year to be crowned the best in the industry!
A Youthful Spirit in Malta’s Capital
Carnival in Malta is a fantastic opportunity to let out your inner child, and let loose with laughter, dancing, music and colours. The main carnival hubs on the Maltese islands are Valletta in Malta and Nadur in the sister island of Gozo, and are characterised by vibrant floats, children – and sometimes adults – dressed in fancy costumes and overall celebrations and enjoyment.
In Valletta, there are several diverse activities that one can engage in. Firstly, there is the procession of mechanised floats roaming the historical streets. These floats are centred on a variety of themes, including TV adverts, famous movies, celebrities, and other contemporary topics. The main attraction of the carnival is the ‘King of the Carnival’ float which is the last and biggest float of the parade.
Moreover, one can watch the charming dance groups from all around Malta perform in a special presentation with extravagant costumes, which takes place at Pjazza San Gorg. Underlying all this, there is the laughter of children and adults alike, and a general atmosphere of vivacity and elation which hangs in the air.
A Bizarre Alternative
The Gozitan counterpart to the Maltese carnival takes place in Nadur, and is more lurid and ludicrous, and often more grotesque. Due to this, it is more popular with adults and older youths, who flock to Nadur for the famed ‘Carnival weekender’ in a range of wild costumes, each one outshining the other. Masks are becoming increasingly popular with visitors of this carnival edition, and the costumes chosen often comment on contemporary local issues, taking a jab at current affairs, and international human emotions such as pain, fear, humour, and tragedy. For the visitors of Gozo, who are less adventurous, though, there is also a carnival celebration in Victoria, with floats and costumes and much more similar to those in Valletta than the ones found in Nadur.