Carnival in Malta
Carnival Week is undoubtedly one of the most colourful events in the Maltese calendar. Traditionally preceding Lent, Carnival provides five days of revelry with many dressing up in colourful costumes and covering their faces with masks in the many towns and villages.
It has been celebrated in Malta since the arrival of the Knights of St. John in 1535, but some studies even date the first carnival revelry back to the year 1470. Up until 1751, carnival was an activity exclusive to Valletta, the capital city. Nowadays, revellers gather in every corner of the islands during the five days preceding Ash Wednesday from Nadur in Gozo to Ghaxaq in the south of Malta.
Valletta is taken over by colourful floats - the basis of the Maltese carnival. Prizes are awarded for the best dances, costumes, floats and grotesque masks. The programme includes the opening, dancing competitions, the grand defilÚ, local and foreign bands, a children's carnival programme, and carnival by night.
Years ago, in the villages of Gozo, ready-made costumes were expensive, so, they would make up their own Carnival attire out of sheets, blankets and everyday clothes. At sunset, the maskarati (wearing a mask to disguise themselves), used to come out into the streets, shouting, whistling and throwing sweets and sweet almonds out to the people. Nowadays they keep the same tradition and you can see all sorts of costumes and maskarati.
The origin of the name 'carnival' is unclear, as there are a number of theories. The most commonly known theory states that the name comes from the Latin carnem (meat) and levare (lighten or raise), literally "to remove the meat" or "stop eating meat". It has also been claimed that it comes from the Latin words caro (meat) and vale (farewell), meaning "farewell to meat".