Of all of the interesting and fascinating things to do in Malta, February holds perhaps one of the most colourful, vibrant and lively events of the calendar: Carnival week. With lively events in Nadur, Ghaxaq, Valletta and other areas, there is something to suit every taste and interest.
This is a fast paced, week long event of colour, parades, fancy dress, dancing, feasts and fun, which is the perfect opportunity to let your hair down and have some fun!
The history of Carnival in Malta
Carnival in Malta dates back hundreds of years, having been introduced to the island in 1535 by the Grand Master De Ponte. It started as a much more modest affair in Birgu, consisting of just a few knights who organised tournaments, parties and pageants.
This naturally developing into a competition, leading to Grand Master De Ponte fearing that they were exaggerating their celebrations and banquets. He announced that he would have to approve all plans before they were carried out, to prevent the celebrations becoming too elaborate and extravagant.
Grand Master De La Valette agreed, and grew extremely angry in 1560 when he learned that masks were being worn on board vessels anchored at the Grand Harbour. The controversy continued in 1639 when Grand Master Juan de Lascaris-Castellar announced that women were not allowed to wear masks or to take part in the banquets, which did not go down well amongst local people.
The local saying, “Qjsek wick laskri,” which means “Your face looks like Lascari’s face,” refers to this event: when he banned masks, he was seen by locals as being grumpy, sad, and not wanting people to celebrate, laugh or have fun. Nowadays, Carnival is a much more riotous, exciting affair, dedicated to fun and celebration!
One of the key areas to check out is Nadur, located on the East of Gozo. The Carnival here is not organised or overseen by any particular party or organisation, and this has to lead to it receiving the nickname of ‘Spontaneous Carnival.’ It is a free-flowing, no rules, affair where anything can – and often does! – happen, and at sunset, the streets of Nadur are transformed, to be filled with grotesque and funny hooded and masked costumes.
Participants often remain silent, to enhance their disguise and prevent them from being recognised, and so this is sometimes referred to as the ‘Silent Carnival.’ The floats are also unique, often containing strong remarks and even insults to public figures, which are cleverly disguised to prevent accusations of libel; they require local knowledge to be fully understood.
Live bands, clever floats, masks, open-air bars and delicious foods are all on offer, creating a unique element to Nadur which makes it an unmissable element to the Carnival experience!
A great deal of the other main action occurs in Valletta, Malta’s capital city. Here, you will meet a wave of masked balls, fancy dress parties, competitions, marching bands, elaborate carnival costumes, and a parade of symbolic floats in the streets, which are presided over by the King Carnival float, which is intended to be the best and most beautiful of them all.
Fancy dress costumes are everywhere, and there is a wonderful combination of adults and kids, old and young, all coming together to celebrate and have fun. One element is the Parata, the most popular traditional Malta Carnival dance. This piece reenacts the 1565 victory of the Knights of Malta over the Turkish Empire, as well as an 18th-century court dance, known as il-Majtija. Everyone is encouraged to join in the celebrations; don’t worry if you don’t know the steps, someone is sure to help you out!
St. Julians (Paceville)
If pure partying and celebrations are your thing, your first stop must be Paceville. Located in St Julians’s Bay, this is the party central of the island, and is a whirl of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, music, parties, discos, casinos, gentleman clubs, cinemas dancing and people. Carnival here is all about having a good time, dancing, drinking and really letting your hair down.
Mingle with party animals, celebrate life, love and friendship, and enjoy a truly memorable (or forgettable if you overindulge!) night out. With a huge range of clubs and bars to choose from, playing everything from RnB to the blues, there really is something for everyone, and you are guaranteed an amazing time!
As well as partying, music, and costume, another crucial element of Carnival is, of course, food. As well as the delicious feasts and range of delicious meals on offer, of particular note is prinjolata, a traditional Maltese dessert which is prepared especially for Carnival.
Easily recognisable to those who know, when it is complete it resembles a snow-capped mountain, and is made of a delicious combination of eggs, vanilla, almonds, chocolate and cherries. No Carnival is complete without this delicious delicacy, and it is a perfect accompaniment to the fun, festivities and food of Carnival!
For a truly authentic, unforgettable experience, head to Malta for Carnival, and let your hair down in this unique, exciting atmosphere, and a traditional Maltese experience!