Las Fallas: Valencia on Fire

I've never been to a traditional Spanish festival like the running of the bulls in Pamplona or celebrating Holy Week in Sevilla, and so I was very excited that our friends in Valencia mentioned visiting them during the Las Fallas festival that happens every March. Our coworkers told us that Fallas was loud (and crazy!), but it's impossible to prepare oneself for the total assault on the eardrums that takes place during this celebration. 

You might be wondering, What is Las FallasFallas is a festival that dates back to the 15th century celebration of the Spring Equinox and the onset of summer, when carpenters would burn the wooden lamp holders that gave them light during the dark fall and winter months. (Adiós, lamp posts!) Eventually, they began to put hats and rags on these posts which gave them a human quality, and sometimes even dressed them to look like people in the neighborhood. Today, elaborately constructed wood and papier-maché figurines line the city, each neighborhood having its own falla, and a massive falla sits in the center of the city, waiting for its turn to burn last of all at 1:30AM. There were upwards of 700 fallas in Valencia this year, some of them costing around six figures. (Never mind Spain's economic situation...) Some photos below show you what a few of the fallas that we passed by looked like; at the bottom of the post you can see one burning.

In addition to all of the burning, there are fireworks. I'll be honest: the fireworks celebrations I saw put many American Fourth of July fireworks displays to shame. (Come on, America! Bigger, better, louder!) At the very beginning and the very end of the festival are two enormous fireworks displays, and fireworks are also used throughout to announce which falla will be burned next. (They stagger the event so that visitors and locals can see as many as possible.) The burning of the children's size/themed fallas begins first at night, and is followed by the downfall of the massive structures throughout the city. You can watch the sky to see which falla will go up in flames next, and make your way toward that neighborhood.

The weather wasn't ideal--it rained most of the weekend. However, the rain paused for the entirety of the burning of the fallas. The wind, though, made me nervous: flames were reaching for buildings (the fire department was everywhere that night, hosing down buildings in the vicinity pre-burning, burning, and post-burning) and the wind was blowing black, billowy smoke in every direction. But even when it was raining, people were out eating deep-fried pumpkin buñuelos and churros, drinking mojitos, and dancing to the music being blasted by DJs on the streets (including the DJ directly below our apartment...). Rain was a minor setback; there's always more gasoline to pour on dampened structures that need to burn.

The city was decked out in lights and posters: FALLAS!

The city was decked out in lights and posters: FALLAS!

Every neighborhood had its own signs and lights. Many things are written in Valenciano, the local language (it is similar to Catalán).

Every neighborhood had its own signs and lights. Many things are written in Valenciano, the local language (it is similar to Catalán).

Whether you want hot chocolate, gooey buñuelos, or churros (or all three), you were never 10 feet from a stand to hook you up with the sweet stuff.

Whether you want hot chocolate, gooey buñuelos, or churros (or all three), you were never 10 feet from a stand to hook you up with the sweet stuff.

One example of a falla. Do you see how HUGE this thing is? This is no elementary school art project, people! Imagine men pouring gasoline on it and then watching it go up in flames when they light the matches. Also note how close to the apartment buildings that falla is.

One example of a falla. Do you see how HUGE this thing is? This is no elementary school art project, people! Imagine men pouring gasoline on it and then watching it go up in flames when they light the matches. Also note how close to the apartment buildings that falla is.

Another example of a falla.

Another example of a falla.

This was an incredible falla that was enormous, intricate, and beautiful, a representation of the movies.

This was an incredible falla that was enormous, intricate, and beautiful, a representation of the movies.

HOW TO BURN A FALLA IN FIVE STEPS:

1. Celebrate the impending burning with fireworks. Lots of fireworks.

2. Pour some gasoline on the structure (just in case). Heck, pour some more (for good measure). Light it on fire.

3. Watch and clap as the fire spreads. If the fire doesn't spread to all desired areas, pour some additional gasoline.

4. Consider backing away a little bit, and duck when the wind blows ash and black smoke into your already smoke-laden coat.

5. If you didn't already back away, then you definitely want to do so at this point. See that top hat? It's probably going to fall. Now, celebrate this feat of pyrotechnic genius by clapping and shouting, and make your way to the next falla!