In the mists of time, ‘Carnival’ is a term that comes from medieval Italian ‘carnevale’, an accurate description of the religious prohibition of the period on the faithful, meaning quite simply that ‘meat is allowed’. Meat consumption was not permitted in the strict Roman Catholic religion of the middle-ages for the entire 40 days of lent. The roots of Malta’s Carnival are in the grand celebration prior to the austerity of Lent.
Maltese Carnival has Grand Master De Ponte to thank for giving the Islands this wonderful tradition, a big street party, in the early 16th century. Of course, being the rulers of this gem in the Mediterranean, the carnival was not actually for the Maltese people and centred solely on noble knights entering tournaments and pageants.
Being a traditionally Catholic country, carnival celebrations in Malta are a big annual event. Perhaps not at the level of the way it’s celebrated in Brazil, but it’s a great colourful extravaganza that marks the start of Lent with a big bang nevertheless. Local float builders compete with each other in preparation for the big celebrations in Valletta with all sorts of large floats, some with satirical themes. The parade itself is one big party with music and performances, all centred on Valletta. Carnival and Holy Week also bring Winter to an end and ushers Spring in with raucous festivities paired to vibrant symbolic colours.
The Carnival is celebrated mainly in Valletta and Floriana, together with the village of Nadur in Gozo, and many Maltese mother’s take time out of their busy schedules to make ‘prinjolata’ an egg-shaped sponge cake, stuffed with almonds, biscuits and citrus fruits topped with cream, pine nuts and loaded with melted chocolate sporting the much lauded cherries on top. Stalls are set-up in Valletta selling the Prinjolata by the slice. Another popular treat for children and adults alike are ‘perlini’ which are the typical sugar coated almond sweets made especially to celebrate Carnival.
The actual celebrations are a riotous affair with fancy dress parties and a spectacular parade of symbolic and ironic floats presided over by the King Carnival float, the unabashed champion of all the many colourful papier maché floats. Expect to be visually assailed with an explosion of colours that bring the streets alive through amazing floats and costumes. This year Carnival takes on added significance with Valletta’s status as European City of Culture, the Maltese Carnival is going to be held from the 9th to the 13th of February. This time of year is time for a quick, short weekend getaway to warmer temperatures and festive fun.
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