Carnival Malta & Gozo – History, Traditions & Programme For 2020

If you are in Malta this weekend, don’t miss out on the traditional Carnival celebrations! Expect dozens of marching bands, colourful floats, stunning costumes and thousands of people! The Carnival craze is here!

Carnival in Valletta Malta

History

Carnival has a long history in Malta. It is an age-old tradition celebrated across the globe. The first Carnival celebrations in Malta can be traced back to the 1400s. Carnival festivities increased during the times of the Order and it was during the 1530s when the Carnival reached its peak popularity.

During this period the traditional ‘Parata’ – the sword-dance making the victory of the Maltese and the Knights against the Turks in 1565 – was introduced. This traditional dance custom survived till this day. This dance is an important part of the carnival. There is even a popular saying among the Maltese peasants: “No Parata no Carnival!”

The arrival of the Knights and the reign of Grandmaster Pierino Del Ponte gave birth to ‘The Carnival Mad Days’; where for three consecutive days, nobles and cavaliers put on the finest wigs and clothing to attend masked balls, tournaments and feasts in Birgu.

The common folk celebrated their own version of Carnival, taking to the streets and dressing up in sheets, sacks, grotesque masks and colourful clothing. Eventually, these celebrations got out of hand and Grandmaster Jean Parisot de Valette had to enforce laws in this regard. However it seems that ‘The Carnival Mad Days’ are surviving till this very day in the Gozitan village of Nadur! 🙂

During the Order’s rule the kukkanja or coccagna was introduced. This basically means that a tall truck of a tree was placed against a wall and all sorts of food were tied to its small branches. Anyone was allowed to try and run or climb the truck to pick the items of food. The lucky ones were allowed to take them home. This game is supposedly still popular in Gozo.

The Carnival continued to flourish even during the British rule. During this period the Veljuni, a masked ball, was held in major theatres in Valletta.

After the First World War, some sources say since 1926, the ‘Carnival Committee’ was established, paving the way for the Carnival we know today. The outdoor Carnival festivities in Valletta started to include a défilé of floats, dance competitions, carts and cabs featuring imaginative figures full of colour and of course the ‘King of Carnival’ float.

Carnival in Valletta Malta

In former days, Carnival floats contained some elements of political satire. At one point, these were banned as sometimes, public figures were offended. However this tradition was revived in 2014 and nowadays it seems like there is nothing but members of parliament represented in a satirical manner on the Carnival floats. Don’t you think?

Due to their increasing popularity Carnival festivities were eventually extended from original three-day celebrations to a full five days, with rival celebrations taking place both in Valletta and Floriana.

Carnival in Valletta Malta

Tragedy

Unfortunately Carnival is not always about dressing up and having fun. Did you know that this time 200 years ago there was a tragedy during Carnival celebrations in which 110 children were crushed to death in a Valletta convent?! I read about this awful tragedy recently in a TVM article.

The fatal day was 11th February, 1823, when during the Carnival time 110 children aged between eight years and 15 lost their lives. They gathered in the Valletta church hoping to be fed bread. The children assembled at the convent to distance themselves from the Carnival manifestation. Unfortunately the children met with the end of celebrations and they came up against the homeward bound crowds and were caught in the middle. Becoming the victims of a riot. How sad is that? It gives me shivers every time I read it. 🙁

Traditions

Talking about Carnival traditions I have to mention the Qarċilla, a fake satiric wedding which still takes place today. It is a comedy that is acted out in public. A ‘notary’ reads out a marriage agreement between the engaged couple and the contract is full of jokes and satirical comments. Tris tradition originated around the year 1760, however it came to an end about a century ago due to the trouble it caused. However, it was revived in 2014.

If you would like to experience it, come on the 22nd February between 16:00 – 19:00 and on the 23rd February between 15:00 – 18:00 to the Triq San Gwann, Il-Belt Valletta.

Carnival traditions wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the traditional sweets. The post popular one is called ‘prinjolata’, which is the Maltese name for a colourful mound of local carnival cake. The name ‘prinjolata’ comes from the word ‘prinjol’ which means pine nuts in Maltese. Also, let’s not forget ‘perlini’ the sugared almonds.

Summer Carnival

I’m sure you know, but just in case you’ve missed it, there is also Malta Summer Carnival. It takes place in the Bugibba and Qawra coastal areas. It’s not as big as the main Carnival in February. There are about 10 to 15 floats and several dance companies taking part. The Carnival activities are usually spread over two days and on Saturday, a défilé is organised from the St Paul’s Bay (the jetty) to Qawra square.

Nadur

It wouldn’t be right to talk about Carnival festivities and not mention the village of Nadur in Gozo. There are actually two separate parties – the family-friendly carnival, which is done in more organised matter, and the spontaneous mischievous one. It is not for everyone, but it’s definitely an experience. Expect the unexpected. It is the time, when locals go wild and the only ‘rule’ is that your costume should disguise who you are. For obvious reasons I would say! Haha!

Nadur is also the place where you can witness the traditional ‘kukkanja’, which I already mentioned earlier on.

Programme

There are numerous events taking place during the Carnival five days celebrations. Way too many actually. Therefore I decided to only list the FREE events:

Il-Qarċilla
22 Feb, 16:00 – 19:00; 23 Feb, 15:00 – 18:00
Triq San Gwann, Il-Belt Valletta, Malta
The Qarċilla is an irreverant and satirical performance of a mock wedding that has traditionally formed part of Carnival revelry. This year’s edition was penned by Ċikku l-Poplu and produced by Joseph Galea.

Tritoni Carnival Celebration with Tenishia
22 Feb, 19:00 – 23:00; 23 Feb, 17:00 – 22:00
Pjazza Tritoni, Valletta, Malta
A live DJ set featuring Tenishia and various local DJ’s at Triton’s Square, performing against a setting of Carnival Floats. This will be streamed live on social media, taking Carnival promotion to the next level.

Ħamrun Carnival Parade
23 Feb, 09:30
St Joseph High St, Hamrun, Malta
The Parata opens the Festivals in Ħamrun, followed by a Carnival Parade along High Street with the participation of carnival Dance Companies, Carnival Floats and the local Band Clubs.

Carnival in Valletta Malta

Grand Parade
23 Feb, 12:30
Castille Square, Valletta, Malta
A Carnival Floats Parade starting from Castille Square, Valletta. The defilé will proceed Via Granaries, Great Siege Road, Floriana to Ġlormu Cassar Avenue, Castille Square, Merchants Street, Archbishop Street, Republic Street to City Gate.

The Parata
23 Feb, 14:00 – 14:10
St George’s Square, Republic St, Valletta, Malta
Also known as the Sword Dance, the Parata is a traditional and historical rendition of the Knights’s victory over the Turks. The dance is a joint choreography between the Ħamrun Boy Scouts and Professional dancers from YADA Dance company under the direction of Felix Busuttil Galea.

Monday Dance Show
24 Feb, 10:00 – 13:00
St George’s Square, Republic St, Valletta, Malta
A Dance Show followed by a Children’s costume parade along Republic Street.

Tuesday Dance Show
25 Feb, 10:00 – 13:00
St George’s Square, Republic St, Valletta, Malta
A Dance Show followed by a Children’s costume parade along Republic Street.

The Grand Finale
25 Feb, 18:00
St Anne Street, Floriana, Malta
Gran Finale: An colourful exhibition of Carnival Floats along Floriana’s main street – St Anne Street which will bring Malta Carnival 2019 edition to a spectacular end.

Carnival in the villages

THURSDAY

Carnival Parade
20 Feb, 18:30 onwards​
Marsa

A Carnival Parade with the participation of 4 band clubs, 10 dance schools, grotesque masks and floats. The parade will take place along Isouard Street and Stiefnu Zerafa Street, culminating in Gan Frangisk Abela Square with a dance programme.

FRIDAY

Children’s Carnival
21 Feb, 9:30am – 12:00pm
Ħal Għaxaq
Carnival Costume parade from Għaxaq Primary School to the Square and back.

Carnival Spectacle
21 Feb, 6:45pm – 10:00pm
Misraħ il-Knisja, Għargħur
A Carnival spectacle with the participation of local band, dance and entertainment.

Carnival Spectacle
21 Feb, 6:00pm
Pjazza Misraħ 4 ta’ Settembru, Isla
A Carnival spectacle with the participation of various dancing groups including belly dancing and folkloristic group.

Spontaneous Carnival
FRI 21 Feb – TUE 25th Feb, 7:30pm onwards
Nadur
St Peter & St Paul Square
Be prepared for all eventualities. This event is not for the faint-hearted.

Carnival in Valletta Malta

SATURDAY

Carnival Spectacle
22 Feb, 6:30pm – 10:30pm
Parish Priest Mifsud Street, Ħamrun
A Carnival spectacle featuring carnival costume competitions, singing and dance.

SUNDAY

Carnival Fun Run
23 Feb, 10:00am onwards
Għaxaq
A marathon around the village with the participation of athletes wearing Carnival costumes.

Fgura Carnival
23 Feb, 10:00am – 12:00pm
Hompesh Road, Fgura (in front of Civic Centre)
A Carnival activity with the participation of various dance schools and local band clubs. Children are encouraged to come in costume.

Dancing Spectacle
23 Feb, 7:00pm onwards
Għaxaq Square, Ħal Għaxaq

Ħad-Dingli Carnival Spectacle
23 Feb,9:30am – 12:30pm
Misraħ Ġuże Abela, Ħad-Dingli

MONDAY 24 Feb & TUESDAY 25 Feb

Spontaneous Carnival
24, 25 Feb, 7:00pm onwards
Għaxaq Square, Ħal Għaxaq
A unique and traditional Carnival with the participation of Grotesque Masks, floats and costumes.

Carnival in Valletta Malta