Every March, while many people around the world eagerly await chirping birds, budding trees and other signs of spring, Valencians are putting the finishing touches on their fallas. These highly flammable papier-mache sculptures of celebrities, politicians and historical figures can reach up to 60 feet in height, and embody the essence of the Valencian community. You can imagine the hours of work that go into each one, as you watch them ignite into flames.
Out with the old
It may seem senseless, even tragic, but the burning of the fallas symbolizes a kind of existential spring-cleaning: out with the old to make room for the new. Once upon a time, las fallas were actually built from old scraps of wood, and eventually were dressed with old rags and given human form. The tradition had to do with the pagan celebration of spring equinox, and later was carried on in honor of Saint Joseph.
This developed into today’s Festival of Las Fallas; which began in the 1700s under the auspices of various urban legends, is now an international attraction that is not to be missed if you are travelling the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The fallas that are paraded through the streets of Valencia for the five-day festival are satirical representations of anything and everything. A whopping 700 fallas are created by different neighborhood associations each year, year round in anticipation of the big day.
Besides the parades of giant sculptures – and of course, their raising to the ground – there are countless attractions at the Festival of Las Fallas. Theatre, music, fireworks, a fallas competition, a pageant to crown a festival queen, and traditional food and drink all form part of the fun.
If you are hoping for a restful stop in Valencia, this may not be the best time. From the daily orchestra of firecrackers (known as the Mascletàs) organized each afternoon for three weeks in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento to the fireworks displays to the general raucous of the streets, the festivities are non-stop, and – in true Spanish tradition – they are loud.
Here today, gone tomorrow
The festival takes place from the 15th to the 19th of March, and visitors will see that it truly is the culmination of the work and efforts of an entire year. The whole city mobilizes, and it is no exaggeration to say that almost every street corner has its own falla.
Almost 100,000 Valencians take part in the processions and festivities, and many more come from all around the world. The main attraction comes at midnight on the night of the 19th, and is known as La Crema (The Burning) when all of the fallas are set alight with torches and the engulfing flames put out by the local fire brigade.
The day after this spectacular sight, all that remains of most fallas are some charred marks on the asphalt. A lucky few are spare, deemed glorious enough for immortality and lovingly preserved in the Museo Fallero. And, on this very same day, the new fallas campaign gets underway for the following year.