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The origins of carnival in Malta

For many years, Carnival has completely entrenched itself in Maltese tradition. It represents a colourful event, in which people from all walks of life participate. Carnival in Malta takes up five days before Lent. Traditionally this was the time to indulge and feast before sobering up for the 40-day fast which in Christian and Catholic tradition preceded the Resurrection of Christ. Actually carne vale marked the period when meat and other earthly pleasures could be enjoyed in a spree prior to the commencement of the term of Lenten penitence. In Malta the five feastdays are celebrated almost exclusively in the capital, Valletta, even though one can find numerous activities in other towns.

Historically, this entertainment can be traced back to the early 1400s. Encouraged by the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (1530-1798), Carnival declined in the 19th century but managed to live through the period of British rule (1800-1964) and has thus been handed down in an almost unbroken tradition of about six centuries.

During the carnival days, Valletta bursts at the bastions with phosphorescent carnival floats. These floats are the mainstay of the Maltese Carnival. Massive cardboard structures, painted in an explosion of screaming colours, start their route at Floriana on the outskirts of the capital, enter Valletta's main gate, then commence a slow parade through the principal streets. The "city built for gentlemen" turns into the City of Fools for the carnival days. Prizes are awarded for the best artistic dances, costumes, floats and grotesque masks. Before the Second World War, the floats often represented local political figures. In the 1920s and 30s the caricature of political figures often led to tense situations that induced the Government to ban such customs from future editions of Carnival. The Maltese Carnival does not, however, consist only of these floats. Throughout the five days of merrymaking, numerous activities take place throughout the island.

Carnival in Gozo is a separately organised edition of the festivity. These festivities were first officially organised in Gozo in the year 1952. The Gozitans have their own floats and parades. The main activities take place in It-Tokk, the main square in Gozo's capital Victoria, and in Nadur square. The Gozitan Carnival bears witness to a separate and autonomous interpretation of the festive occasion and is therefore instilled with a character of its own, stemming from the different temperament of the people who set it up. But a parallel event, which takes place in Nadur, defies the official definition of a standardised Carnival activity such as those held in Valletta and Victoria. The novelty of the Grotesque Carnival on Nadur is that there is no organising committee to plot out its course.

Every year, there is the so-called Il-Parata, a re-enactment in dance form of the 16th-century struggle between the forces of Maltese and Knights of St John against those of the Muslim Turks. Nowadays it is mainly children who participate in the dance. The Parata is of special significance in the history of the Maltese Carnival. Under the Knights it was taken very seriously, and the Maltese eagerly awaited its performance because the rule was "no Parata, no Carnival".

Grand Master Zondadari introduced the traditional game Kukkanja (Cockaigne) in 1721. A crowd assembled in the Palace Square on Carnival Monday and at a given signal attacked the hams, sausages and live animals tied to the long beams fixed against the guard house and covered over with branches of trees in leaf. The provisions became the property of those who, having seized them, were able to carry them off in safety through the crowd.

Popular food eaten at this time include the traditional perlini-multi-coloured, sugar-coated almonds, and the prinjolata, which is a lovely towering dessert made out of sponge cake, biscuits, almonds and citrus fruits, topped with cream and pine nuts. Carnival is usually a time of gluttony as it comes just before the solemn period of lent, where people slow down consumption of food and drinks, at least until Easter.

The Carnival spirit lives on, and year after year more tourists visit Malta with the sole purpose to join the revelry of the Maltese Carnival. 

 Carnival Malta Carnival Malta

Carnival Malta

Carnival Malta

 



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