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Carnivals to celebrate the start of Lent come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and guises throughout the world. You’ll no doubt know about the one in Rio and pushing that a close second is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. But when it comes to finding Malta’s premier event you need to head for the tiny village of Nadur on Gozo .
Carnivals over the years have developed into events where people throw caution to the wind – take on a different persona – go a bit wild! In Rio scantily clad Brazilian beauties parade through the streets and in New Orleans this manifests itself as sensible Sharon from accounts whopping out her boobs at any passer-by kind enough to drop a string of plastic beads around her neck. Nadur is not nearly so crass but it’s equally unusual in its own way.
Malta’s carnivals also tend to follow the general global themes of lively revelry and make-believe. They’re loud, brash and colourful with an emphasis on fun. The official carnival in Valletta, for example, is a highly-organised affair, perfect for families with small children. Never will you see more Zorros, Indian chiefs, robots and little senoritas all packed in one place!
But if you’re looking for something a little more adult, out of the ordinary and less sterile – then you need to cross the Gozo Channel to the sister island and beat a path to Nadur. This normally sleepy hamlet has to be the most unlikely venue you could possibly imagine for an event of this nature. If you visit at any other time of year you’d never believe it!
It’s here though that you’ll find the big, boisterous beast of a carnival that allows you to really let your hair down, largely because everyone is masked, or heavily made up, making it utterly anonymous. People can hide behind their costumes, or alter egos and go wild as someone or something else. Or, they can keep silent to avoid being recognised for the entire five evenings of festivities.
Revellers grab the chance to change gender for an evening or two, or to harness their inner demons and scare the living daylights out of friends and strangers.
Nadur’s carnival remains the most unusual all the Maltese events. Hundreds of Maltese and Gozitan couples, tourists and, who knows, possibly a large secret invading army of drag queens merge together to roam the streets, dance to band music, make merry, eat and drink.
Unlike the regimented Valletta Carnival, the strong arm of organisation has not rendered Nadur’s event predictable or helplessly touristic. It’s pretty much anything goes, within reason and the law, at the Nadur Carnival. The event happily remains as free from any rigid strictures and rules as it was the first time it was held, in a spontaneously haphazard fashion several centuries ago.
The general motto in Nadur is ‘go out and be happy’. No one knows it’s you, just as much as you don’t know the lovely blonde with a beard and pneumatic chest next to you is actually Carl from Chatham who you met on the plane over from Luton. Bask in the ridiculousness of it all for a few hours. Let yourself go!
Nadur Carival takes place every year. It is a five-night event that finishes on Shrove Tuesday – or Mardi Gras as the French like to call it. If you count back on your finger then you’ll figure out that it starts on the preceding Friday night!
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