This year, Carnival is taking place between the 24th and 28th of February, making this article a month early in the calendar. You might be perplexed by this, but considering how seriously the Maltese take Carnival, with some diehards working towards the event all year round, an announcement just a month prior sounds just about right!
Photo credit: http://www.epicurious.com
Indeed, Carnival has a rich history in Malta, having been celebrated at least since the arrival of the Knights of St John in 1535. Some newer sources even suggest that Carnival celebrations predate this era, and go back all the way to 1470.
‘Carnival is a big deal in most countries around the world’, you might be thinking. ‘What makes Carnival in Malta worth visiting above what we’d find elsewhere?’
It’s a fair question, but the fact of the matter is that carnival isn’t a competition. Malta might not have the same carnival that somewhere like Rio does – but Rio doesn’t have the same carnival that Malta does, and that’s perfectly OK. They can both be carnivals worth experiencing! However, this article is all about Maltese Carnival, and what makes it unique. Read on to find out what’s worth checking out should you be in our archipelago this February.
You might already have anticipated this, but Valletta is the main axis around which Carnival in Malta rotates. This is not simply the case because Valletta is our capital city though, but rather because the tradition of Carnival stems all the way to the time of the Knights of the Order of St. John (as mentioned), and this city was their official residence during the majority of their stay.
In other words, Valletta is the place to be if you want to find all kinds of people, from children to the elderly. More importantly, though, it’s the place to be if you want to experience the real Carnival tradition in Malta, complete with singing, dancing, music, food, games, and carnival floats.
The carnival floats, of course, are the real point of intrigue year after year for anybody visiting Valletta. Always whacky and over-the-top, Maltese Carnival Floats can cover a wide range of themes and people, which means that the team responsible for making them doesn’t even mind poking fun at local politicians and personalities at times! Current Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, for example, is just one of the several people who has been turned into a float before.
Photo credit: Times of Malta
If you’re not Maltese, you might need a friend to help you understand all the references used for the floats, but it’s all in good fun! Either way, you can appreciate them simply for the impressive construction work and fine detail, whether you catch them as they parade in Valletta, or whether you inspect them as they’re at a standstill.
Another Carnival tradition that takes place in Valletta and is definitely worth checking out is a dance known as ‘Il-Parata’. Dating back to the times of the Knights, this dance re-enacts the 1565 siege between the Maltese and the Ottoman Empire. For many years, it was considered to be the most essential part of the festivities. This dance was revived in 2006, and nowadays it is mostly children who participate.
If you’re in the mood for a more adult, more macabre carnival, your best solution is to get to Nadur in Gozo, which has long become recognised as the other hotspot for the feast in the Maltese Islands. More child-friendly celebrations take place in Victoria, Gozo’s capital city, but you’ll definitely want to call the babysitter if you’re planning to head on down to Nadur, where you’ll find a real party vibe. Here, people tend to don costumes that range from ghoulish to somewhat explicit. It’s definitely a place where people can let loose and forget their concerns!
Photo credit: Times of Malta
Where will you be this carnival? Are you interested in the traditional Valletta carnival way of doing things, or are you more of a Nadur person? There’s plenty of time to find out – just don’t miss out on the festivities this year!