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A guide to Malta's February Carnival

Widely regarded as one of the best events on the island, the February Carnival is firmly entrenched in the Maltese calendar and brings the whole community together to celebrate. Brightly coloured floats parade through the streets alongside the outrageous outfits of carnival-goers soaking up street theatre, live music and dancing.

The largest celebrations take place in the capital Valletta and on the island of Gozo, but the carnival is also celebrated on a smaller scale across most of Malta, making it almost impossible to escape the festivities.

The popular Paceville area in St Julian's is a favourite spot for late night revellers from across the island to party into the small hours.

The history of the celebrations

Introduced by Grand Master Piero de Ponte, Carnival has been celebrated in Malta since 1535 and would originally have seen knights displaying their skills through a series of games and tournaments.

By 1560, the knights were reprimanded for taking the festivities too far, decorating ships and filling the harbour with extravagant dancing and music, and so the festivities commenced. Carnival owes its popularity to the fact that this was the last opportunity to eat and make merry before Lent, the 40-day fasting period before Easter. But as well as food, soon parades of lavishly decorated floats soon joined the fray.

During the British rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries, these floats began incorporating more satirical themes, poking fun at political figures – a theme that has since continued. Traditionally in Malta's Carnival, brightly dressed dancers perform traditional dances including the Parata, a light-hearted re-enactment of the 1565 victory of the knights over the Turks, and Il-Maltija, an 18th-century court dance.

Foods include Perlini – multi-coloured, sugar coated almonds – and the towering Prinjolata, an impressive structure built from sponge cake, biscuits, almonds and citrus fruits, topped with cream and pine nuts.

The heart of the action

Carnival's central events are held in the capital Valletta, with the opening ceremony and speeches taking place in Pjazza Teatru Rjal.

The beautiful Baroque streets are then transformed with wild costumes, colourful floats and music pumping from every street corner. The Maltese take their outfits very seriously and host a multitude of exhibitions where you can observe costumes, floats and masks.

The second day of the celebrations kicks off early with the Children's Carnival, allowing little ones to get involved in the fun and frolics. Crowds of people gather to watch energetic dance competitions and street performances at St George's Square as confetti falls from the sky and the air rings with the sound of laughter and merriment.

The six-day festival accumulates in an impressive Grande Finale boasting dance shows back at the Pjazza Teatru Rjal and iconic street parades from the fleet of vibrant floats.

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