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Las Fallas: The Loudest and Longest Festival in Spain

fallaLas Fallas – Valencia’s festival that you can’t miss

First, I have to be very clear about the timing of this article.  It’s just after 4 PM on March 15th when I sit down to write this and Valencia’s biggest and loudest festival is underway, but nowhere near its height of frenzy.  This is my first Fallas and I still don’t really know what to expect.  Nonetheless, it’s time to say something about one of Spain‘s great celebrations.

Let’s start with the basic questions:

Where

Valencia exists as three separate, but connected, physical areas.  The city that once presided over the Kingdom of Valencia still bears that name, but it goes further.  The Autonomous Community of Valencia shares that name, as does one of the three provinces that it comprises.  So, the greater area of Valencia, from north to south, includes regions of Castellón, Valencia and Alicante.  Towns in all three celebrate Las Fallas, though the major fallas towns are Gandia, Oliva, Dénia and Benidorm. And, of course, the city of Valencia is where the biggest and loudest expression of Las Fallas takes place.

Who

Valencia is the place where Las Fallas happens, but you couldn’t say that the Valencians are the only ones to enjoy this festival.  In the past few days we’ve seen the number of both Spanish and foreign tourists skyrocket. Terraces and patios seem to be reproducing at an alarming rate and fewer and fewer streets are open to anything but pedestrian traffic.

Only the last day of Las Fallas is an official holiday here – there’s just no way that all of the people milling about outside are from here.  It’s an inclusive event.  The sea of tourist maps pulled out by confused visitors blocking the sidewalks doesn’t seem to bother anyone.  Las Fallas has its own personality and though its origins are strictly Valencian, it’s an international event.

When

Technically, Las Fallas is one of the longest celebrations around.  It starts on the last Sunday in February and runs until the 19th of March.  That description is misleading, though.  The real festival starts on March 15th (the day of writing), making the intense festivities 5 days in length.

How and Why

(I just can’t separate these questions)

Las Fallas is essentially a celebration of spring.  Its current form has its roots in the habit that medieval carpenters had of burning wooden candle holders in spring to mark the end of long, gloomy winter days.  And that’s the how and the why.

How it came about was via the irreverence of wood-burning carpenters (I love this concept) and the Why is the reverence with which the Valencian people have run with that irreverent desire to burn things in celebration.  Destruction is fun, and these people work hard to fuel the celebratory flames that burn at the heart of this unique festival.

falla2-1What

The word falla is derived from the Latin word fax, meaning torch.  The Spanish and Valencian word falla today describes the elaborate and gigantic statues that are lovingly designed and built every year, only to be burned on the 19th of March.  It is truly amazing to gaze upon these extravagant creations knowing that their existence is so ephemeral.  I am continually impressed with the dedication to both artistry and celebration that these works represent.

What better complement to fire than gunpowder? This is other great element of Las Fallas. Firecrackers and fireworks are as much a part of this festival as the giant fallas that are sacrificed each year.

From March 1st until the end of Las Fallas, each mid-day is rent asunder by a cacophony of explosions designed to be the loudest and most intense expression of noise possible.  The mascletà, as it is known, is a very Valencian event.  It happens on a smaller scale to mark other occasions as well, such as weddings and birthdays, in this part of Spain.  But where it really rings out is in Valencia during Las Fallas.

The visual aspect of gunpowder is explored on each of the five nights of Valencia’s famous festival, with displays that increase in intensity.  Tonight will be the first of these and I am still trying to figure out a way to get the whole clan to see it without Oscar, aged three, suffering too much sleep deprivation – the sparks fly at 1 AM.  His grandparents, visiting from Canada, will probably have some trick up their sleeve.

Expectations

The two things that I can say about Spaniards are that they love to party and love to grumble.  I have no doubt that we are in for an intense few days, even though so far, today has been far less frenetic than I would have expected.  This is backed up by the repeated warnings that I have received from friends and neighbours about the follón de ruido (insane noise) that is about to bombard us.  The woman downstairs from us planned to leave town until her cousins decided to pay her a visit for fallas. I suspect that the same passionate intensity being applied to this grumbling will be evidenced in the bedlam that will flood the streets shortly.  At least, that’s what I hope.

There are kids outside my window lighting firecrackers as I write this.  For all I know, their grandmother is there with them – no age or gender limits apply to having simple, noisy fun here.  With a few hours left until sundown, my anticipation is starting to mount.

If you want to know more about the structure of events that comprise Las Fallas, there is a schedule here and an interesting article by a writer you know here.  If you’re curious about how we guiris fare, check back sometime after the 19th.  (I may need a week to recover…)

Cheers,

Ivan Larcombe

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