Las Fallas in Valencia — a once-in-a-lifetime experience…

Believe me, we had NO idea what we were in store for!

When we booked our apartment in Valencia, Spain for the month of March, I was told that we were lucky — we would be there during Las Fallas, a celebration that happened every year at the same time. I did a little research and was looking forward to witnessing a rich cultural tradition wrapped up in an incredible amount of noise and colour and excitement.

But it was one thing to read about it — and another thing entirely to be there while it was happening. Now don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it all — the parades, the music, the colourful traditional clothing, the throngs of people in the streets, the street parties, the special food and drink, the amazing papier-mache monuments that magically appeared on street corners and in squares all over the city, the gorgeous, elaborate, moving light displays that rose up over the streets.

Yes, I enjoyed it all — EXCEPT for the firecrackers that went off incessantly — at all times of the day, starting in early March and increasing until March 19, the end of the celebration.

I didn’t mind the mascletà, the fireworks display that took place at 2:00 pm every day in the main city square, the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This is a display of gunpowder explosions that beats out a unique sound.

The mascletà was noisy, but at least it was predictable. I knew when it was going to happen, so I could manage to be far enough away — preferably in a nice sidewalk cafe eating something delicious — so that the noise wouldn’t startle me.

It was the firecrackers that I wasn’t too fond of. They were totally unpredictable.

As the middle of March drew closer, the frequency with which people throughout the city set off firecrackers increased to any time and anywhere. These sharp cracking sounds often startled me and made me jump. Bob seemed to find this very amusing. “I’m sensitive,” I would say, over and over.

girl

This was not a posed picture, it was street photography, Fallas style.

setting-firecrackers

More images caught by chance. A common scene as kids all over the city of all ages — in traditional dress and not — had the time of their lives setting off firecrackers in the streets.

But really, the rest of Las Fallas was fascinating and delightful. It’s astounding to watch as an entire city gets wrapped up in a frenzy of sorts, and as tens of thousands of tourists from all over Spain and other countries converge on Valencia.

I can’t tell you how many times we would be sitting at a cafe having tapas and imbibing a beverage or two and a small marching band would come down the narrow street with  trumpets and trombones blaring.

Yes, it’s an excuse for a big party, but it’s much more. What I loved was that it celebrated all aspects of Valencian cultural traditions. You can see every expression of the Valencian identity (music, costumes, rituals). You could not go anywhere for several weeks without seeing girls and boys (falleras and falleros) dressed in 17th and 18th century traditional costumes walking through the streets. And they were usually quite proud and happy to pose for pictures.

So what exactly is Las Fallas? The term actually refers to three things — the celebration itself, the enormous paper-mache monuments in the shape of cartoonish people and things that were often as tall as buildings, and the Fallas community of neighbours that are the moving forces behind the whole festival.

Las Fallas originated from an ancient ritual of spring in which villages put all of the scrap wood and broken furniture from the previous winter into the streets and set it on fire. In a way, it signified getting rid of the old for a new beginning, a kind of purging. The large falla statues have many ninots (smaller figures) attached to them and the whole thing is a feat of engineering. They are constructed in a precise way, so that when they burn they collapse safely. The monuments and ninots generally satirize culture and society, and the themes range from current affairs to local traditions. Yes, Donald Trump was represented.

fallaforgettylr

This was one of the most popular fallas which was located in the Ruzafa area of Valencia. We saw it the night of la planta as it was being finished. You can see the scale of it compared with the people admiring it.

Before the festivities, we went to see the Exposició de Ninots at the Museum of Science where we could look at the ninots up close. We voted with everybody else (for a small fee) for our favourites, and the winning ones will be saved for next year.  The rest are burned on the night of the cremà.

sherlock

A familiar fellow — my size — seen at the Exposició de Ninots. The craftsmanship of the ninots is remarkable.

We met a wonderful Valencian woman named Vicky who told us about Las Fallas from her perspective. Most neighbourhoods have a Fallas club, which spends a whole year raising money and holding parties in order to hire an artist to design and construct a large and exuberant statue that would be the focal point of the celebration for them.

She was part of such a club in the beach area of the city and she was getting more and more excited as the main days of the festivities grew closer. She advised us which areas of the city had the best Fallas and lighting displays. Vicky told us that Las Fallas was run totally by Valencians, it was not government-supported in any way. There is a competitive element too. There are competitions among everyone for the best everything — costumes, fireworks, statues, ninots, lighting displays, you name it. Las Fallas serves as a focus for neighbourhood communities, which strengthens them and keeps them active and cohesive throughout the year.

 

lights valencia

Ruzafa is known as the area with some of the best lighting displays as well as Fallas so that is where we headed on the night of the planta. I wasn’t sure what time they would be lit so I was in place with my monopod about an hour too early. But it was fun to people-watch. Despite the large numbers, everyone was respectful and in a good mood, and there were no problems whatsoever.

 

As a festival for all the senses, Las Fallas culminate with the cremà, or burning of all the monuments, on March 19, which is St. Joseph’s Day and Father’s Day in Spain. This fire ritual consumes a whole year of work — a whole year of dreams.

At 10:00 pm the children’s fallas are set to the torch, amid music and fireworks. At midnight, Valencia astonishes the entire world each year by burning its street monuments to ashes, ending with the biggest fallas whose budgets are in the range of many thousands of euros.

We decided to avoid the huge crowds downtown and took part in the cremà in our local neighbourhood. The small fires there were big enough for me! I was gobsmacked to see the tiniest of children learning how to set off firecrackers. But Vicky told us that the parents teach them young how to handle them safely. After the children’s falla had burned down, the children held hands and dance in a circle around the embers to traditional music. Oh yes, there are firefighters and hoses present at every burning to make sure nothing goes awry.

The question everyone asks is why burn statues that cost so much to make in time, energy and money?

As one blog put it: “This is simply yet another traditional quirk of the Valencians, channelling their craftsmanship into an event of international status; people who are in love with aesthetics, beauty, fireworks and music; people who outdo the ancient Greeks and Romans in pageantry; people who see the ironic side of life through their ninots yet allow the flames to consume them in a homage to spring.”

I liken it to the intricate and beautiful sand mandalas that Buddhist monks work on painstakingly for long periods of time only to destroy them in the end, revealing that everything is impermanent.

The day after the burning Valencians wake up to a new morning and are already starting to think about the fallas they will build the next spring. It’s spring renewal unlike any I’ve ever seen.

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Las Fallas in Valencia — a once-in-a-lifetime experience…

  1. What a great experience you are having! I love Spain, but have only been in the northern part. The Spaniards do love to fiesta!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks, Lisa for visiting…Even though I wasn’t crazy about the noise of the firecrackers, I did find some value in facing my fears and realizing that a lot of them were just in my head and not real. We can often find good stretching experiences in unpleasant ones!

  3. Thank you for sharing the experience from the point of view of a participant Amanda. I found your post extremely interesting! And the dresses are beyond gorgeous. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Wow! This looks and sounds incredible, Sherry.
    I do have to say though, that the firecrackers would have really bothered me, 10 years ago, maybe not so much so, but unfortunately it’s a different world today, and I would have found it frightening.
    What an amazing experience this trip was for you, and thank you so much for sharing it here.
    xo.

  5. Hi!!! Glad to know you enjoyed Valencia and its culture! I’ve been dressing as a fallera for almost 17 years and it’s always nice to see that those who visit us are so amazed and curious about our fiesta 🙂

    I recently wrote a post on my blog about all the textile heritage surrounding the falleras and falleros costumes which are mainly made out of silk fabrics, and which has been made UNESCO’S Patrimony Heritage among the whole festival recently. I think you might like it:

    http://www.somethingfashion.es/2017/04/textile-heritage-valencia-UNESCO-fallas-espolin-silk-dresses.html

    See ya!
    Amanda

  6. This was fascinating to read about, and your photos are stunning. I especially love the light displays…they are so beautiful. I can’t imagine spending all that money and effort only to put it to the torch at the end! And the firecrackers would have had me startling at each one, too. I really don’t do well with that kind of noise. Thanks so much for sharing this! It’s really nice to see something so different that I won’t ever experience myself.

  7. I can only imagine your reaction if you had been there Cheryl. I think you would have really enjoyed so much of the experience. The funny thing is that in daily life I am less of a detail person than you would think. But travel and photography somehow increases my discerning eye…which is a good thing I think…perhaps I pay closer attention to what is around me because I want to take it all in. I get such a high from travelling. From the minute I leave home to go to the airport, I am blissfully happy and it lasts throughout the trip and even weeks later. It did turn out to be a trip of a lifetime and I know you have had a few of those too! Thanks always for your kind and insightful comments.

  8. Thanks, Susan. I had to reign myself in on the post. I had so many images! I may have to do something else with them…lol…a month really felt like much more…that much time was a luxury.

  9. I guess when you grow up with something, it appears quite normal..lol…as an outsider this was a pretty unusual event, but that’s the cool thing about travel — it allows you to see things differently.

  10. So happy you wanted to come along, Kate. For us, a longer period was a better and more natural way to travel. One experience could build on another. We really did feel as though we were living in a place and that made the experience richer. Seeing the fallas made would be very cool. Someone should do an article on that!

  11. What a wonderful post Sherry.. I was so glad to read about this and also to enjoy your photo’s. A bright and beautiful country from what you have been showing us..I love following you, especially this time, because I know I will probably never get there. Reading your post is like reading a very good travel journel, full of all the things that I will never see and then the added photo’s are just amazing…a mini National Geographic tour…you are such a detail person, nothing is left out.
    I’m so glad you and Bob were able to do this trip…some trips become “a trip of a lifetime” but we don’t know that before leaving. Of course, some of us have a few trips that are “trips of a lifetime” which is really lovely…
    Thanks Sherry for sharing the color, gaity, brillance people and food of Spain. I enjoyed the trip and look forward to many more photo’s…

  12. That is some amazing homage to spring! You captured the festivity so beautifully. What an experience to actually live there for a month…I’d love that!

  13. This is great, you told me just what I wanted to know, and of course, your photos are wonderful. What a fabulous/crazy celebration. You were so fortunate to have been able to spend a month…isn’t full immersion the best? I wonder if a shorter visit would have provided the insight that you have.
    I am completely gobsmacked by the fallas! They are incredible pieces of art. I would love to see the entire process of seeing them made.
    So happy you made this trip and were gracious enough to invite me along vicariously!
    Thanks for sharing.

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