In 2019, the Malta Carnival will be held from Friday 1st March till Tuesday 5th March. Five whole days of colour, dancing and fun! The word “carnival” comes from the Italian phrase carne vale. This phrase literally means “meat is allowed”. In the old days, during the forty days of lent, meat consumption was not allowed in Roman Catholic religion. This is why carnival was always celebrated just before the fasting period in Roman Catholic countries. Hence, the term “meat is allowed”.
The Maltese carnival dates back to hundreds of years.
Il-Karnival ta’ Malta (or Malta Carnival in English) is very much part of the Maltese cultural calendar. Introduced to the Maltese Islands by Grand Master De Ponte in 1535, the Maltese carnival is held during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday.
Originally, carnival was celebrated in Birgu with just a few knights organizing pageants and tournaments. Soon Grand Master De Ponte felt that his knights were exaggerating with their banquets and celebrations so he gave out orders that he himself had to approve the tournaments, etc before they were held.
Grand Master De La Valette was of the same opinion of De Ponte and he too thought that the knights’ lavish festivities were a bit too much.
Previously he had allowed the wearing of masks and subsequently carnival became much more fun. However, in 1560 De La Valette is believed to have gotten very angry when he learned that the knights and local people were also wearing masks on board of vessels anchored at the Grand Harbour.
In 1639, Grand Master Juan de Lascaris-Castellar issued an order wherein he prohibited women from wearing masks and participating in the knights’ banquets. Of course, this order was not taken kindly by the knights and the women.
A popular local saying that is still used widely to this day is “Qisek wicc laskri” which literally translates to “Your face looks like Lascaris’ face”.
This is used to describe a very sad person. The Lascaris reference is used because when the Grand Master originally banned the wearing of masks he was perceived by the knights and the locals as a sad and grumpy old man who did not want people to celebrate, laugh and have fun during Carnival week.
During the British Era, it was very common that the Malta Carnival floats had satirical political themes. They usually made fun of prominent political figures and their sometimes unpopular decisions. Political satire was eventually banned from the carnival of Malta in 1936. The ban still holds to this day.
Nowadays, the largest carnival celebrations take place in Valletta and Floriana.
Celebrations typically include masked balls, fancy dress parties and a parade of symbolic floats presided over by the King Carnival float which is supposed to be the best and most beautiful float of them all. Marching bands and costumed revelers make the streets of Valletta and Floriana come alive!
The carnival reaches its climax on the last day with a spectacular floats parade - a magical and fun experience for children and adults alike.
Why not participate fully and dress up as one of your favourite super heroes? Maybe you've always wanted to be a pirate, an astronaut or wear some other cool costume :)
Check out our
Carnival Costumes page and browse through a beautiful selection of carnival costumes for men, women and kids and absolutely stunning carnival masks.
Some villages in Malta and Gozo have their own carnival celebrations. These however are much smaller than those held at Valletta and Floriana.
One particular carnival that has been gaining ground over recent years is the Nadur Carnival in Gozo. In fact, thousands of Maltese people and visitors each year cross over to Gozo to join in the celebrations. The Nadur Carnival is renowned for its darker (sometimes macabre) and more risque themes. You will often see cross-dressers, ghost costumes and revelers dressed up as clergy folk.
The Parata is the most popular traditional Malta Carnival dance. It is essentially a lighthearted re-enactment of the 1565 victory of the Knights of Malta over the Turkish Empire. The dance also includes an 18th century traditional court dance which is known as il-Maltija.
As with any celebration in Malta, Carnival is associated with lots of food and drink.
Perlini which are colourful sugar coated almonds are eaten in abundance during this time. But perhaps the most popular local Carnival sweet is the Prinjolata. The prinjolata is a uniquely shaped cake made from pine nuts and Madeira cake and topped with cream. Mmmmm simply delicious!
If you’d like to try this Malta carnival dessert, visit our Easy Dessert Recipe for Carnival page and get the recipe.
Don't allow your favourite carnival costume to be forgotten after the Carnival is over. Share it with us and the thousands of visitors that read this site!
Have a cute photo of your son in his favourite super hero costume? Maybe you've made a gorgeous carnival costume for yourself a few years ago?
We'd love to see it. And our visitors will too!
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