If you’re in Malta during February, get ready to be swept up in the local carnival celebrations, this year taking place between the 9th and 13th.
How did carnival in Malta begin?
The Malta Carnival is a popular local tradition dating back hundreds of years to the 16th century, during the time of the Knights of Malta. Carne vale meant a celebration of the final meat-eating and joyous revelry that was still possible before the sombre Lenten fast leading up to Easter. This was at a time when meat was not consumed for the entire 40-day duration of Lent, and it was considered unholy to enjoy anything, really, during that time.
The original traditions of the Malta Carnival
As one can imagine, people at the time were keen to enjoy themselves as much as they can before the impending 40 days of doom and gloom, so it became customary to indulge as much as possible to make up for the lost fun time ahead. Ordinary rules no longer applied during carnival - men dressed up as women, masked persons indulged in the profane, and there were no divides between masters and slaves. Meanwhile, a game known as the kukkanja - the greasy pole contest - is a tradition from the time of the Knights that continues to reappear from year to year.
The Valletta & Victoria carnival celebrations
The official carnival activities in Malta are based in Valletta, while those in Gozo are mainly in Victoria (Rabat). Expect young and old in lavish costumes, loud music, choreographed dancing, hilarious sketches and the famous signature floats. Enthusiasts can spend up to a whole year building floats from papier-mâché and painting them in luminous colours, while several floats are even mechanised so that they can move! The themes for the floats may range from the latest Disney movie to current political affairs - perhaps the modern version of 'slaves' pointing fingers at their 'masters'!
For adults only: the famous carnival of Nadur, Gozo
It might surprise you to discover that the small village of Nadur on the little sister island of Gozo is the main attraction for many locals during Carnival. The spontaneous carnival, as it is called, has in fact gained international popularity; and is known to verge on the macabre (you might be asking yourself whether this is carnival or Halloween). Here, there are absolutely no holds barred - everyone can be anyone or anything, and it also seems to have a unique trend for weird and wonderful group costumes that play out spontaneous acts on the streets. Probably the closest to the original revelry of carnival, the three-day Nadur Carnival tends to be an adults only celebration which must be experienced to be believed but, be warned, it can never quite be understood!