The Fallas began as a traditional fiesta honoring Saint Joseph. Over the years it transformed from a one-day celebration in to a multiple day, incredibly unique and crazy festival involving food, fire, cartoon like creations and neighborhood unity. Sounds like a strange combo, right?
Upon arriving in Valencia, it was clear to me that Las Fallas was going to be a cultural experience that I couldn’t miss. It didn’t begin until the middle of March yet, in January locals were speaking about it with anticipation. The weeks leading up to The Fallas I noticed little by little there were street closures, white tents and food vendors popping up all over the city center. You could find light displays (not yet illuminated) above your head on almost every street as well as banners with the flag of the Valencian Community draped from side to side. I could feel the energy building.
I knew before taking part in the celebration I had to do some research to inform myself on what exactly Las Fallas was all about. What I found out was that the term “Las Fallas” literally translates to “The Fires” in Valencian. As I said earlier, it began as a feast for St. Joseph and has evolved in to one of the craziest citywide celebrations involving the creation and destruction of “Ninots.” Ninot’s are puppets or dolls ranging in shape, size and theme- mostly created using cardboard, wood, paper-mâché or plaster. Families and communities rally together to produce Disney cartoon looking creatures often designed to mock current social situations. At the conclusion of the festival they are all burnt down in a ceremony known as “La Crema.”
Now- for my experience.
In typical Spain-like fashion, the celebrations for Las Fallas start late at night and end in the early morning hours. The first night- after our 9:30pm dinner reservation – our taxi driver dropped us off at the top of a street in a part of town known as Russafa. In the distance I could see an illuminated structure, so bright and so colorful my eyes were instantly drawn to it. As we got closer, it was even more incredible than I could have imagined. A tunnel of sort was made out of millions of LED lights that band together to create a kaleidoscope-esque appearance that was truly breathtaking. I had never seen such an intricate display of lights in my whole life. As I walked through the tunnel there were street vendors selling meat, churros, candy and more but I couldn’t focus on anything but the lights that were encasing me.
Once we got to the end of the tunnel the light displays continued down every street. Most commonly there is a reference to the specific Fallas you are entering lit proud above the street where a white tent houses all the food for the district members and their guests to enjoy. Families and communities work together to produce these Ninot’s that are all over the city. Some begin working on next years Ninot’s immediately at the conclusion of this years Fallas. The Ninot’s vary in size and complexity but are all beautiful. I’ve witnessed cranes lower pieces in to place on larger than life Ninot’s while other smaller ones are crafted with such detail. They are each guarded by a fence for the duration of the Fallas to ensure their safety. Kind of ironic, considering at the end of the festival you watch them burn to the ground but that’s neither here nor there.
Throughout the entire Fallas celebration, Valencia sounds like an active war zone with fiery substances going off at all times. In the morning, I would sit outside and try to enjoy a cappuccino only to be startled by bomb-like sounds that shook me to my core. Don’t think it stops at night to allow people to sleep- oh no, no, no, they expect you to be celebrating as well so what harm is there is setting off fireworks at 1am? In fact, at 1am each morning the street lights shut off for 20 minutes to allow the Fallas firework display to take center stage (or sky, rather). I’m surprised I’m not suffering from hearing loss at this point. During the day I’d walk through the streets and see kids some barely 10 years old, lighting sparklers and throwing firecrackers while parents look on with camera’s to capture the moment. There are also sections of roads shut down to allow people to light off “masculetas” which are colorful firecrackers hung on what looks like a clothesline.
There are many events that go on during the day of Las Fallas as well. Rarely advertised, you have to just stumble upon an event to know it’s taking place. One event that is advertised is bull fighting at Plaza de Toros. We decided to check it out and it was not what I expected. I’ll leave it at that. Parades fill the streets with men and woman dressed in traditional Valencian costumes. Bands follow parades and the music can be heard streets away as they march proud through the city center. It looks like something you would see in an episode of Game of Thrones rather than a real life modern day festival.
The fashion during Las Fallas is customary. Women and men of all ages dress in traditional Valencian costumes. They appear to be quite heavy with intricate designs from head to toe. Although you can’t put a price on tradition, I’ve heard that these dresses start at 1,500 Euros! Not surprising when you see how embellished the gowns are, usually with floral designs and embroidered aprons. The women wear their hair up with braided spiral hairpieces attached to the back and sides of their head. Men’s fashion varies but I saw most with shorts and high socks on.
The 19th of March is when La Crema takes place. This is where the fire comes in. Each Ninot is burned to the ground in the very place it was built. Starting at 10pm lasting until 230 in the morning you can hear cheers from the crowd each time one is burned to the ground.
The next day, each district carries out their final festivities. They range from parades to flower presentations but most include fireworks or maculates celebrations causing bomb like sounds to be more frequent than usual.
Today is the day the city is supposed to go back to normal and at this point – I can’t remember what normal is.
At the conclusion of the festival this is what I learned- you cannot simply read about Las Fallas, you have to experience it.
Check out some of the photos from the celebration below.