Spain is a country filled with interesting festivals like no other. On the bucket list of every expatriate living in Spain should include a trip to Valencia in the first 2 weeks of March to see and experience the color, the loudness and the wackiness of the Las Fallas festival. This is Valencia’s carnaval. I consider this festival (next to the Tomatina or tomato throwing festival in Andalucia and the running of the bulls in Pamplona) as one of the best celebrated in Spain.
This is a traditional festival celebrating the feast of Saint Josep (St. Joseph), the patron saint of Valencia. Each neighbourhood in the city of Valencia has an organized group of people, the Casal faller, that works all year long holding fundraising parties and paella dinners, the region’s famous dish. Each casal faller produces a construction known as a falla which is eventually burned. A casal faller is also known as acomissió fallera.
Each group or casal faller in the towns would spend months preparing the puppets or dolls known as ninots. Each ninot which are massive (some measuring 20 to 30 feet high) are mounted on its own firecracker filled cardboard and paper mache stand in a street in the neighborhood or barrio they are representing. The ninots on their mounts are called fallas and they are paraded through the streets. At the end of the festival and a panel of judges representing Valencia’s affluent society select the best falla which connotes the theme of the festival for the year. This is one of the most prestigious prizes one can receive in Valencia. The barrio or area which made the winning falla is inaugurated into the Seccion Especial, the table of winners of the best fallas in the history of the festival.
This is a two week festival culminating on the 19th of March with the burning of the fallas all over the city. What I find so beautiful about this festival is the fact that crews of artists and artisans, painters and sculptors are hired to build beautiful. funny, sarcastic caricatures of politicians, fanciful figurines and in the most outrageous poses in gravity defying architecture. This festival brings out the full creative spirit of Spain. Artisans use paper and wax, wood and styrofoam materials and some structures can be as high as a five story building. Aside from the fallas, the traditional costumes of Valencia with the best hand made painetas (combs) for the hair and gold filigree jewelery are worn by the women who are in charge of guarding the peace in the pueblos. I find it interesting how women play such a major role in probably the loudest and one of the most dangerous festivals in Spain. It truly depict how a matriarch society sets the rules at home, in communities and in a society as whole. There is no better way to see this display of women power than in Spanish festivals !
The festival actually begins on the 1st of March with the sound of the brass bands heard every morning at 8:00 am followed by the fallas paraded through the streets of each barrio until March 19. Behind the bands are the fallers throwing firecrackers on the streets. The sound is deafening and the air fills with smoke. The firecrackers are set off to ward off spirits and to signal the end of the winter gloom and the start of spring. Then the Mascleta, a coordinated explosive barrage of fireworks begins at 2 pm every day in each neighborhood. This is the beginning of the competition of pyrotechnicians who display their grandiose abilities to impress the Fallera Mayor who dressed in her finery (which includes the traditional dress hand embroidered in gold and silk jacquard), stands on the balcony of the Municipal Hall and announces every afternoon, “Pyrotechnics, you may begin the Mascleta and light your fireworks !”
The sound is deafening and if you plan to attend this festival best to bring earplugs for your children. They may not be able to withstand the noise without some form of protection for their hearing.
As this is all going on throughout the day, the spanish do what they do best—party with lots of drink, tapas and paella ! From the 15th to the 18th of March, the riverbed that runs through Valencia lights up in the most spectacular firework display. On the 19th of March, the Cabalgata de Fuego or Fire Parade begins along Colon Street and the Port de la Mar. The celebration of fire is the spirit of the festival and in the past symbolized the burning of old furniture at the beginning of spring—a gesture that the people of Valencia are spring cleaning their homes, their neighbourhoods. Today, the Fire Parade is filled with floats, and effigies of politicians, famous people, and even cartoon characters. Usually news headliners are burned as a symbol of the way in which spanish society may perceive them to be–good or bad in terms of making the news. Some of the famous personalities whose effigies have been burned in the past are Barack Obama and Lady Gaga and George W. Bush.
If you are planning to attend the Fallas festival this year, make your plans very soon. Select hotels that are not on the main roads because they can be extremely noisy due to the massive amount of fireworks that are lit up throughout the 19 day festivities. You can bring your children but take care of their ears ! Best to bring ear muffs or ear plugs because the noise may disturb them. It is however a great festival for them to see in terms of culture, colour and sheer fun.
If you would like more information about Las Fallas in Valencia, log onto the official website of the organizers of the festival www.fallas.com. It has lots of interesting recommendations of where to stay and eat while in Valencia and where the best vantage p0ints for the fireworks will be.