What is ‘Las Fallas’
‘Las Fallas’ is an annual festival held in Valencia, traditionally in celebration of Saint Joseph. It’s origins are actually pagan, but now it also holds religious value too, exclusively in the Valencia region.
With a week off from university and the infamous festivities that were ahead, I had no choice (nor did I want another) but to discover the city in a different light!
The weekend before it all began, I wasn't feeling very well, and thought I had missed so much of what had been happening around the city….I was so wrong, the celebrations had barely started!
Not a moment goes by during the week where you’re not living ‘Las Fallas’, starting with being woken up each morning (after an inevitably late night) by a parade passing through your street (La Despiertà) at 8am on the dot! I’m usually an early bird, but not so much a fan of loud and unexpected noises. On the last day, in my area, it was an entire hour of endless firecrackers. Really.
*I think* the startling morning awakening is conditioning for what you’re to experience as the week progresses!
‘Have you seen a Mascletà yet?’, one of the most important questions to ask any newbie to the Valencian tradition. This is really where you get a true feel for how crazy, lively, and GIGANTIC ‘Las Fallas’ is. It’s a daily 2pm firework show which runs through most of the month of March leading up to, and during, the week of Las Fallas. Loud is an understatement. Deafening is a little more accurate. As you make your way into the ‘Plaza del Ayuntamiento’, you're greeted with swarms and swarms of people, I mean thousands! There are so many people (daily!!) that they flood into every single side street that surrounds the plaza for hundreds of meters. If you don’t make your way in early, you're not really going to secure a position to see the fireworks, but that also might be a good thing as they can be heard from across the city, so just imagine how your ears start to ring if you're close by. Each day that I went, I would go a little earlier, eventually getting closer and closer, but forgetting that I would be totally squashed in between people, then struck with the loudest sounds and foggiest air I have ever experienced. The vibrations run through every part of your body and in the displays’ final moments the tremble of fireworks leave you completely awestruck.
Wherever you walk through the city, whether it be a big open park, or a crowded side street, you’re constantly jumping frightfully at the sound of firecrackers being set off by children. Yes, children! They carry these cute little personalized wooden boxes around so they can take them everywhere they go! As cute as they are, you never quite get used to them and are constantly startled!
Fireworks are definitely a huge part of the festival! On the last few nights there are late night firework displays, where people (like for the mascletà) gather in their thousands to watch the much anticipated spectacle. I only saw the final one, at 1am (yes!) and I admit, it’s by far the best firework display I've ever seen in person, they really pull out all the stops. Lasting for about 15 minutes, you're left mesmerised.
Now for one of the most exciting and enticing parts of the festival. FALLERAS. There are also Fallers (their male counterparts) but Falleras by far take center stage. Some girls wait their whole life to become a Falleral so if you're a tradition loving Valencian, this is a dream. To represent your area as a fallera, and be able to participate in ‘La ofrenda’, ‘the offering’, is a huge deal. Dressed in their incredible costumes, hair scraped back and styled and all the additions, they're ready to participate in La Ofrenda.
La Ofrenda takes place over two days in ‘Plaza de la Virgen’. A gigantic wooden structure which represents the Virgin Mary takes a prime position in the plaza. Falleras and Fallers of all ages (really! from babies to senior citizens) from across the Valencia region take their turn in offering a rose to add to the structure, which eventually looks like its completely constructed of flowers which form her clothing. What a sight! Many of them kiss their flowers before offering them, then they're thrown higher and higher up to the a group of people who do the scary work, standing on the wooden structure as they throw, catch and place the flowers to form the Virgin’s body. As the Fallers pass through the plaza, many of them are crying, possibly from being completely overwhelmed because they've waited so many years to partake, or maybe just tiredness and hunger from being in a big heavy dress all day. I’ll never know I suppose, maybe it's a combination of both.
What would ‘Las Fallas’ be without the actual ‘Fallas’, which are artistic sculptures that come in a range of sizes, and are found all around the city. They’re part of a competition that is judged in the last few days of the festival. They're produced by Valencian artists from across the region and historically have been forms of social and political satire, nowadays however they represent a huge range of things; whether political commentary, or simply representing artistic talent, they're really incredible to see and really are beautiful pieces of art. This is what makes the final event of the week the most painful, but somehow very satisfying- La Cremà! This consists of every last Falla being burnt to the ground at midnight on the last day. It represents a sort of purification, that it’s officially over, and so the new year begins.
The year in Valencia really does revolve around Las Fallas, it’s the largest event of the year, and so much effort goes into it. Though I’d like to tell you what I think of the environmental, economic, etc. impacts of the festival, I dedicate this post to just appreciating how much effort and pride goes into it. As an outsider looking in, I don’t feel its my place to speak what I think of the other effects the festival has (yet). I much prefer to bask in the spectacle and awe of it all for now! It's truly an experience to remember, and if you ever get the chance to come and live Las Fallas, do! :)