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The Incredible Las Fallas. A Festival Of Noise And Fire

Las Fallas Festival takes place every year between the 1st and the 19th of March (16th to 19th are the most important days though) in the city of Valencia (Spain) and the nearby towns. Las Fallas is a traditional celebration in praise of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of the carpenters, but though it has a religious background, it is probably the craziest festivals out there and one of the most entertaining.

Spain is famous for its crazy fiestas. I mean if you have ever fancied a tomato fight or to put your life in danger running from angry bulls, then your dreams can easily come true in Spain. But simply burning the income and the work of a whole year and risking to set up on fire an entire city...  How crazy is that? 

The essence of Las Fallas


Every year in Valencia the locals raise funds and build over 700 enormous, humorous, satirical and very expensive papier-mâché monuments called fallas that are displayed in every other city square during the festival period, to eventually be dramatically burned in the middle of a big party on the 19th of March at midnight.

"The Four Seasons", the winning falla of 2010

Las Fallas is an outstanding festival. The crowds that gather in Valencia every March from all over the world make Las Fallas an internationally recognized festival, worthy of being listed next to the Venice Carnival or the Carnival in Rio.

Mascletas


Las Fallas basically starts on the 1st of March with the first mascleta, a magnificent aprox 10 minutes explosive display of coordinated firecrackers and fireworks. Mascletas are held at 2pm in every neighborhood and repeated daily throughout the festival period, every day a different tune being played.

The most important of mascletas is the one in front of the Town Hall where the crowds gather hours in advance to get a privileged spot for the noisy show and where the pyrotechnicians compete for the honor of setting the biggest mascleta of them all on the last day of Las Fallas, the 19th of March.


Sacks of gunpowder ready to explode in front of the Town Hall /td>

Food at Las Fallas


Las Fallas is all about bonding and keeping the community together, and what better way to do this than cooking a huge paella in the street? Paella is the first choice for any event here, as it was first cooked in Albufera, a lagoon not far away from the city. Therefore, eating a paella is one of the must-do things in Valencia for any visitor.

But the most emblematic Las Fallas food are the pumpkin buñuelos and the chocolate dipped churros. Basically food stands sprout like mushrooms at every street corner and days become a roller-coaster of   fried dough. Medieval markets are also organized on the streets leading to the biggest fallas and here you can find other delicious regional goodies, like cheese, ham ans sweets.

Buñuelos and churros

The fallas


Each neighborhood of Valencia has an organized group of people, the Casal faller, that 'works' all year long holding fundraising parties and dinners that will later be invested in a falla.

Every falla is made out of ninots (meaning puppets or dolls) and all are going to be burned except two (one from a kid's falla and one from a big falla) that are saved and displayed in the Fallero Museum from Valencia, next to the City of Arts and Sciences.

"The Kiss Between Earth And Sea" a 27 meters falla from 2010

To make sense of what I said before about burning the work of a hole year... "The Kiss Between Earth And Sea" was 27 meters high, and was an impressive falla from 2010. It actually got the 2nd prize. It also cost about 600.000EUR.

But the most expensive falla ever, that actually got in the Guinness Book, cost about 900.000EUR and was the winner of 2009. So yeah, you can say these are money thrown out the window or more specifically, burned. Not everybody has the value to do that, I have to admit.

One of the winning fallas of 2011

The beginnings


There are many theories about the beginnings of Las Fallas, but the one I like best is this: it all started with the spring cleaning. The folks of Valencia used to mount in front of their houses piles of garbage gathered during the winter and then burn them. Slowly the piles of garbage started to grasp meaning and they became satirical and humorous social or political comments. They grew and the tourists started to come and the garbage piles became the amazing, colorful, hundreds of euros worth ephemeral monuments we can admire now every March.

Falleras, falleros and the traditional costumes


Another stunning sight during Las Fallas are the beautiful traditional Valencian dresses the women exhibit during these days. But not only the women get all dressed up. The men and children do too. They are part of the Casal fallers and are called falleros. And during the festivities, there are thousands of people dressed in such costumes walking the streets of Valencia.

Family of falleros in front of the falla they sponsored


Fallera Mayor - the Queen of Las Fallas


Being part of the event is a big deal. Not only that there are events organized all year round where they stand out, but during Las Fallas festival one gets lots of exposure. Every group is represented by a fallera, but the most important of them all is Fallera Mayor, the Queen of Las Fallas, a young woman chosen for her social skills and looks, to represent the community and the city of Valencia throughout the year.

The title of Fallera Mayor is an extremely prestigious one in Valencia and the competition is fierce and expensive. Fallera Mayor is always accompanied during the social events she attends by her court of honor made of 12 other lucky women. There is also a young girl, Fallera Mayor Infantil, who represents the children.

Beautiful as these traditional costumes look, they are also very expensive. The whole outfit (dress with golden thread, stockings, shoes, golden comb, jewelry, etc) can cost more than 20.000EUR. One visit to the hairdresser for the traditional hairstyle is about 400EUR.

Being a fallera is the dream of any Valencian girl. It's like being a local princess. Some of them start saving money for such a dress from a young age and with a bit of luck, eventually they see their dream come true.

The offerings to the Virgin Mary


Another important social event that takes place during Las Fallas is the offering to the Virgin. For two days in a row thousands of falleras and falleros head to the Plaza de la Virgen, just behind the cathedral, carrying flowers (especially carnations) from which the dress of the 14 meters high statue of Virgin Mary is made.

Virgin Mary statue made out of flowers

The light displays


Because Las Fallas is a festival of light and fire, the street light contests could not miss. Walking on such a fine decorated street during the night is like stepping into a fabulous enchanted castle. Being amazed is 100% guaranteed.

Street participating in a street lights contest

La Crema - burning the fallas


Eventually, all fallas are burnt. It is a sad moment, but also the time to let go. Seeing these works of art burning is always sad and tears often come to my eyes. With this act, Las Fallas comes to an end, but just not before an impressive fireworks display in front of the Town Hall.

Falla burning down to ashes - hot, hot, hot, only the firemen could get close to it

Las Fallas is an amazing festival and every time I get to live it it warms my soul with all the marvelous and incredible things it means and offers. The fire that purifies the house and the spirits could not have a greater expression anywhere else. The rebirth of nature and the rebirth of the new human being, can not be accomplished in this lands except through fire, like a Phoenix spreading her wings towards a new beginning. Las Fallas is the most complex festivals that I know of and words will never make it justice. You need to live it to fully understand it!

13 comments:

  1. Oh I would have loved to see photos of the bonfire as well - it must be spectacular!

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  2. Hi Barbara! At your request I published a photo of the bonfire as well. It was spectacular and HOT! When the fire started everybody stepped back like one person. I was amazed nobody pushed. It was one of those moments in which the person becomes one with the mass and acts like part of something greater. I could feel the fire burning my face from about 30meters away. A one in a lifetime feeling.

    Now off I go to relax a few days on Lake Como. Comming back with lots of stories :) Have a great day!

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  3. Wow they really know how to throw a celebration, the kids costumes look amazing. Enjoy Lake Como.

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  4. Thanks Ryan! Lake Como was great but unfortunately rainy.

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  5. Well, I'm extremely jealous that you got to see this. I have yet to see Las Fallas, the mascletas and everything else that goes with the festival. Hope you had a good time!

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  6. Really liked to read about your Las Fallas experience. This is such a great, but incredible party that goes on and on.

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  7. I was wondering about some of the earlier festivities. I will be in Valencia from March 6th until the 10th. Do you think I will be able to track down any of Las Fallas mascletas or papier-mâché statues? It is all so alluring!!!!!!!

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  8. Hi Anonymous, the mascletas start on the 1st of March, every day at 2pm in front of the cityhall and it won't be any problem for you to experience this laud feature of Las Fallas. The papier-mâché statues are installed later, about 1 week before burning them, so I fear you won't see much of them if you leave Valencia on the 10th. You might see some while the workers are installing them, but you'll hardly see any finished fallas.

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  9. One of my earliest memories is of Las Fallas in 1990 (I was 5). And I've seen them quite a few times since. Spain in general is amazing but this is certainly a highlight.

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  10. I have never seen anything like Las Fallas festival. Awesome, I highly recommend it! The party goes on all night, but make sure you wake up in the morning, 'cause there are lots of things to see and do.

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  11. A visit to the hairdresser is between 20 euros and 40 euros not 400!

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. Hi!!! Glad to know you enjoyed Valencia and its culture! I've been a fallera for almost 15 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 dress which are mainly made out of silk fabrics. I think you may like it:

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

    Oh! And as someone pointed out before... Our hairdressing sessions do not cost as much as 400euros! It's about 30-40 as maximum depending on where you go to get your hair done. Sometimes our mothers or grandmothers, or even friends help us get our combed hair buns done too :)

    See ya!
    Amanda

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