Malta’s carnival, Il-Karnival Ta’ Malta, takes place in February in the lead-up to Lent and is one of Europe’s oldest and most celebrated festivals. Jonathan has experienced many Mardi Gras festivals in the past, mainly in New Orleans, but for me, this was my first time.
It was fun, jam-packed, apparently a lot more family-focused than New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and loud! Very loud! And Malta’s favourite song, Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ (don’t ask me why, but it’s a Maltese favourite; visit Malta in the summer, and you’ll hear it everywhere) blared loudly and frequently through the city’s loudspeakers.
History Of The Maltese Carnival
The first Carnival celebrations in Malta can be traced back as far as the 1400s, but it wasn’t until the 1530s that the carnival reached its peak popularity.
Carnival celebrations during the mid 16th century consisted mainly of the Knights of St John, proving their skills in a variety of tournaments and pageants, followed by huge banquets. The Grand Master Piero de Ponte at this time had to pre-approve all carnival plans to ensure they wouldn’t become too extravagant or elaborate.
However, several years later, the festivities had apparently become quite extravagant and wild, and interestingly, Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette, the man responsible for creating Malta’s capital city Valletta, was not amused. In 1560, he banned wearing masks in public and reprimanded the knights for their rambunctious celebrations.
In 1639, under Grand Master Juan de Lascaris-Castellar, women were also banned from wearing masks and taking part in carnival balls that were organised by the knights. If they were caught, the consequence would be a public whipping. Not sure if that applied just for the women or the knights too!
The locals, needless to say, were not impressed with these prohibitions and would blame the Jesuits. They would taunt them and demand the Jesuits to leave Malta. There’s a saying in Malta,” qjsek wick laskri, “which means “your face looks like Lascaris’ face” and is used to describe someone who is grumpy and doesn’t want other people to enjoy themselves.
Nowadays, the carnival is all about having fun!
When Is The Carnival In Malta Celebrated?
Malta’s carnival is celebrated right before the start of Lent. The word ‘Carnival’ comes from the Latin words ‘carne vale’ meaning ‘farewell to meat.’ The Catholic church used to forbid eating meat during the forty days of Lent.
As a result, Roman Catholic countries would celebrate carnival and indulge in all kinds of foods and drink before beginning the fasting period.
What’s The Maltese Carnival Like?
Carnival in Malta is very colourful. It is said that during Carnival, Valletta, which is known as ‘the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen,’ turns into the ‘City of Fools!’
Carnival festivities include colourful parades with massive floats and marching bands, music and lots of delicious food and drink, and some late-night street parties (those are mainly in Paceville).
For the five days of carnival, anyone can dress up, but it was mainly the children you would see in costume. There were loads of little princesses, superheroes and clowns. Clowns are always scary-looking, aren’t they?
Malta’s Carnival Floats
The carnival floats were terrific. They were enormous and extremely colourful with their brightly painted, gigantic papier-mache cardboard structures. You could see how much work, time, and effort must have gone into creating them. Obviously, designing the best carnival floats is a serious business in Malta.
In fact, local carnival groups spend a whole year preparing for the four days of carnival events and to participate and compete in the Carnival parade.
Themes for the carnival floats range from people to social and political issues to mythical creatures or animals.
Accompanying the carnival floats are marching bands, dancers, marching bands and costumed figures. Prizes are awarded for the best carnival costumes and dances. The main carnival parades take place in Valletta, and around the Granaries in Floriana, which is just outside Valletta.
Have you ever experienced a Mardi Gras carnival? Tell us about your experience in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.