Carnival in Malta 2014: a light and dark affair

Nadur Carnival, 2013. Photo: Mario George Vella

Carnival in Malta and Gozo, 2014, runs 28 February – 4 March. See the programme of the main Carnival activities in Valletta, 2014. While the Nadur ‘Spontaneous’ carnival (ie less organised) counterpart in Gozo runs 4 – 5 March in December 13th Street and St. Peter & St. Paul Square, starting after sunset each evening.

Shops are advertising kids’ costumes for hire and masks flutter in the wind tied up outside the sell-it-all corner shops. Carnival is big business and much beloved by kids, if not parents’ wallets; with costume hire running easily to Euro 30 upward, it isn’t a cheap event for those who give in to pester power. If you’ve kids, then this is the time to say home-made is best and get gluing, sewing and probably muttering curses under your breath.

Carnival coincides with school half-term and comes more or less right after exam week. No wonder then that kids in Malta leap at the chance to enjoy Carnival, let their hair down and binge on prinjolata, a gleaming towering white cake that marks a feast before the (now defunct) tradition of Lenten frugality. Carnival has always been a time for extravagance though, throughout the centuries…

Carnival’s history in Malta is well documented here. It was a key festivity in the religious calendar in Malta under the Knights of St John. While encouraged at first, its growing licentiousness, rowdiness, brawls and wild festivities in general made some Grand Masters curtail and even censure it in various periods.

Certainly, it has included elements that might make today’s kids pale as they make their annual and harmless trek mid-term to Valletta to see the floats in their ‘grand défilé, with the King Carnival pride of place. Carnival is centred on Valletta, where the city gate was demolished in the late 1950s, as urban legend has it, to build one high and wide enough for floats to pass through. The new Renzo Piano city gate to be will no doubt have factored in carnival’s needs.

Nadur carnival girl, 2013Some aspects of the darker sides of carnival’s history – the macabre and grotesque masquerade – live on in part. The Nadur carnival in Gozo is one of the only surviving spontaneous (rather than totally organised) carnivals today and definitely includes some blacker moments, though probably none as bawdy as those in the times of the Knights. Recent years have seen some revellers, who dressed as nuns – and one as Jesus – hauled up in the courts for violating a ban on vilifying the Catholic Religion.

If you do delve into the history of Malta’s carnival though, you’ll find the debate about its returning to its roots (whatever they really were) has come up time and again over the centuries. No single era seems to have harnessed carnival and avoided its propensity to surprise, defy, and live on in body rather than just spirit.

For children though, carnival is an annual and predictable event. It’s a time to not wear school uniform, and to eat that gooey mound of prinjolata and to enjoy the organised processions in Valletta and pop-up versions of carnival in village squares.

Carnival – further info

Malta Council for Culture & the Arts runs an official carnival page here. See also our what’s on listing here for the Valletta programmes in English and Maltese.

Photos: Nadur Carnival 2013: courtesy of Mario George Vella

Similar Posts:

5 Comments about “Carnival in Malta 2014: a light and dark affair”

  1. [...] Prinjolata, a nicely refined name for a mad mound of carnival cake. Sheer decadence and full-on frivolity. Having given this cake a miss for all my 19 years in Malta, I was curious to see what exactly is ‘under the bonnet’ of this giant dome of polker-dotted whipped cream. As the hail storms took their toll on the grand carnival procession yesterday, and we were holed up at home, I set to making prinjolata mini sized to make up for our missed trip to Valletta, Malta’s capital. Baking is also a sure-fire way to keep warm in our somewhat underheated stone house. Call me a kill-joy, but since J was old enough to muster pester power over sweets of any kind, I have tried to limit Prinjolata intake over the years. I know, as it only comes round once a year, I should let him have his indulgence before penetential traditions of Lent. Prinjolata is a massive, gooey mound that stands proud and gawdy on cafe’ counter tops well before carnival festivities begin. It takes its name from ‘prinjol’, Maltese for pine nuts (a word similar to the Italian ‘pinoli’). Pine nuts go into its filling, along with those neon beacons of glacé cherries. Well, it’s no good going half measure once you’ve set about baking a junk-food delight of a cake! It was quite a revelation, the prinjolata. You first bake ‘pan di spagna’, a kind of trifle sponge. Then break the sponge up into small pieces and get the beaters out again to mix in the cherries, pine nuts and cocoa nibs. It seemed odd to mash up a perfectly good sponge to start again, but it works. Of course, some like more cocoa nibs… The Artex ceiling topping in mine is mostly fresh cream with a little packet-mix topping added. I think those in confectioners and cafes must be near-on 100 per cent the latter otherwise they’d need to be kept in the chill counter not open air. At home, you can probably use just fresh cream. I didn’t top them all as I prefer it plain, and sliced up like a semi-freddo. The cream of course is what makes it so decadent a cake for carnival. And I forgot to say, it has a nip or two of whisky in it. Would I make it again? The verdict – once a year! But it was fun and at least J got a slightly healthier portion this time round. A great idea to while away a bitterly cold February day at kids’ half term if you can’t get to, or don’t have carnival where you are. More on Malta & Gozo’s carnival here. [...]

  2. Hello I am from Samba St:Olof and we wonder when the festival is 2014 ? I Will be glad to send you some more information about us if you are interested in some energetic Samba rhytms from Sweden. Do you know who I can contact ?

    Best Regards from Gunilla and Samba St:Olof

  3. Hi Gunilla,

    Thanks for leaving us a comment on our carnival article on Malta Inside Out. We don’t organise the event as we’re just an online media entity. However, you can get in touch with Malta Council for Culture & the Arts (MCCA) which oversees the event and coordinates PR etc. The council should be able to direct you to the organisers proper for next year’s event. As to dates, it does vary from year to year as Easter shifts! But assume it’s mid-late February; usually it’s around the 12th or so.

    Here’s the council’s link:

    This is the page about Carnival but it’s in Maltese only I’m afraid.

    You might be interested to know that Malta has a main Summer Arts Festival which invites and see lots of overseas’ artists and performers. The summer festival might be even more appropriate for you than carnival. This is the link to that, also organised by the MCCA.

    I hope this helps you.

  4. Thank You very much for the information !

    Best Regards from Gunilla

  5. hi Gunilla,
    Glad you found my reply! I see we communicated in Feb this year! Good luck with bringing your show to Malta.


Make a Comment