At the time of the tragedy, Malta was under British rule and experiencing a famine, and it had become a tradition to gather 8- to 15-year-old boys from the lower classes of Valletta and the Three Cities to participate in a procession during the last few days of carnival. After the procession, they would attend Mass, and they would be given some bread afterwards. This activity was arranged by ecclesiastical directors who taught catechism, and its main aim was to keep children out of the riots and confusion of carnival.
This activity was organized on 10 February 1823, when children attended mass at Floriana and then went to the Convent of the Minori Osservanti (now better known as ta' Ġieżu) in Valletta where they were given bread. Everything went as planned, and the same procedure was planned for the following day.