From the beautiful to the grotesque we celebrate it all.
If you’re planning on visiting Malta in February, carnival is one of the most popular cultural events of the year and typically involves masked balls, fancy dress, grotesque mask displays as well as a myriad of fun activities for children.
Traditionally celebrated in the week leading to Ash Wednesday, the carnival tradition in Malta started out in the 15th century, but received a significant boost around a century later with the arrival of the Knights of St. John. Celebrations originated in Birgu and generally included a number of knights who played games and displayed their skill during a series of tournaments and pageants.
Along the years, different Grand Masters voiced various opinions related to this celebration, and imposed a series of rules and restrictions that included the prohibition of women wearing masks, and the fact that nobody was allowed to wear a costume that represented the Devil. It was also forbidden to make fun of officials or cause satire, with public whipping and imprisonment being two of the many possible outcomes for anyone who chose to disobey.
These rules were dropped (or conveniently forgotten!) over the centuries, and during the British period (19th / 20th century), carnival in Malta was well known for its satirical theme as well as for the introduction of the intricate and colourful carnival floats that were designed and created with the specific intention of poking fun at political figures.
Today, carnival celebrations are considered one of the most entertaining outdoor activities in Malta and Gozo and draws thousands of revellers and masked celebrants to the capital city of Valletta, especially kids who enjoy walking through the streets in fancy dress and playing the occasional prank.
A more ‘spontaneous’ carnival is held in the quaint village of Nadur in Gozo, which is generally more adult-oriented due to its notably darker, and perhaps more risqué themes that generally include cross-dressing, ghosts, political figures as well as the occasional scantily dressed numbers.
Traditional dances held in Valletta square include il-Parata,(the Parade) which consists of a light-hearted re-enactment of the 1565 Great Siege victory, as well as il-Maltija (the Maltese) that represents a traditional 18th century court dance.
Keep an eye out for the traditional food of the season that includes Perlini (pastel coloured sugar coated almonds) as well as Prinjolata, which entails an assembly of sponge cake, almonds, citrus fruits and biscuits, topped with a meringue-like cream and roasted pine nuts.