21 February 2014
There is a buzz of excitement going around Malta at the moment. Whether young or old, there is one conversation that is totally unavoidable at this time of year. Carnival fever has struck the island once again. Now some people I have spoken to hate it all, others grin and bear it, while some simply live every day of the year waiting for these five days to come around, when the silliness, the senseless and the idiotic takes over.
Carnival has had an important place on the Maltese cultural
calendar for just under five hundred years. It was first introduced to the Islands
by Grande Master Piero de Ponte in 1535, although some studies state the first ever carnival held in Malta was in 1470.
It is held during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday. Fancy dress, masked balls, lavish late night parties and colourful, ticker-tape parades of allegorical floats, marching bands and costumed revellers are all guaranteed. Prizes are awarded for the best artistic dances, costumes, floats and grotesque masks.
The largest of all the carnival celebrations takes place in the capital city of Malta, Valletta although it is common to see several spontaneous carnivals take place in more remote villages around Malta and Gozo. The Nadur carnival in Gozo is notable for its darker and more risqué themes including ghosts and other similar scary costumes, cross dressing, and revealing outfits.
The festival is officially opened with the Parata, an ancient sword dance commemorating Malta's victory over the Turks in 1565. 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".
Carnival float building in Malta is an art inherited through family generations and enthusiasts take great pride in their work with more than a touch of rivalry amongst participants.
Local aficionados spend a whole year in secrecy preparing for the upcoming days of events to participate and compete in the Carnival parade. Eerily beautiful and colourful floats which depict all sorts of people, animals and mythical creatures, parade the streets of Valletta with dancers in elaborate costumes partying aboard.
I will personally be heading to Gozo for the celebrations with some friends of mine. There will be 8 of us staying in a farmhouse
that we have rented for the weekend. I am looking forward to watching the parades during the day, eating some Prinjolata (Maltese carnival cake) and as the evening approaches we are all dressing up as Disney characters and attending a light night party.
Author: Sabine Jung