Las Fallas is a festival that takes place every year in Valencia, Spain, beginning on 1st March and getting bigger and crazier until the peak on the 19th. Dating back two centuries to celebrations dedicated both to St Joseph and to the ending of winter, these crazy few weeks completely transform the city in every way, from the decorations to the fireworks to the street parties to the enormous papier mâché sculptures (‘Fallas’) that take over the city. Anyone who enjoys crazy celebrations, festivals or seeing right to the cultural soul of another country should definitely come and experience Las Fallas – and prepare to be overwhelmed!
Fireworks in the daytime?
Forget Christmas; for many Valencians, Las Fallas is the best time of the year. The festival kicks off with a ‘Mascletà’, the first of the series of 19 that take place every day at 2:00 pm. Mascletàs are like firework shows, except the focus is on the sound rather than the visual effects. They’re basically a series of rhythmic explosions, accompanied by smoke and flashes of light, and despite the fact they take place every day it always feels as though the entire city comes along to watch. Each Mascletà is designed and performed by a different area of the Valencian region, who are all in fierce competition with each other to put on the biggest and the best! Mascletàs are unlike anything you will see (or hear!) anywhere else, a truly Valencian way to celebrate.
As well as the daily Mascletàs, there are several night-time firework shows over the course of Las Fallas, known as ‘Castillos’. Taking place in central locations at various stages of the festival, these shows are truly breath-taking. Like the Mascletàs, the firework shows are organised by different parts of the region on different nights, and each one is better than the one before. These are the kinds of firework shows where people applaud every time there is a pause because they can’t imagine it getting any better!
Parades and processions
Las Fallas has a huge number of processions and parades that take place, mostly featuring both children and adults in costumes and often in floats. The themes of these processions vary widely, but go from recognisable characters to celebrating Valencia to using satire to voice complaints about current events. On the evening of the 19th there is a final procession called the ‘Cabalgada del fuego’ - the carnival of fire! Unlike the other child-friendly parades, the final one features devils, dragons and statues shooting sparks out across the audience! The contrasts between these two types of procession really capture the crazy, ever-changing nature of Las Fallas.
The girls in the photo above are the ‘Falleras’ – they are another crucial part of the festival as they are present at all of the main events and have responsibilities like lighting the first firework during Mascletàs. They are always easy to spot anywhere you go in Valencia during March, and they dress in the most amazing traditional costumes with incredible Star Wars’ Princess Leia-style hair!
Surrounded by statues
The last 5 days of Las Fallas are when the celebrations really kick off, and this is when the statues appear. Local towns and areas of the city spend the year preparing their papier mâché Falla, and like the processions, they are often satirical. The themes involved can be anything at all, from celebrating local culture to famous figures to films and books to satirising political decisions. For example, 2014 featured sculptures with themes like Spain’s 21% VAT rate, Moulin Rouge, farmyard animals, and even a take on the famous photo of Albert Einstein with his tongue out! And many more besides – there are around 400 communities that all make and send their contributions, each one consisting of a full size Falla, some of which can be up to 20m tall, and a childsize Falla with a more child-friendly theme.
Each statue is made up of multiple figures, known as ‘ninots’, and as such each Falla is captivating and has huge amounts going on. For a week these statues completely transform Valencia, with sculptures to find in every square and on every street corner throughout the city.
Walk through the tunnel of lights
Another feature of Las Fallas is the decoration to be found everywhere, from flags and bunting in the streets to intricate displays in shop windows. However, the most impressive decoration by far is the tunnel of lights to be found in the Ruzafa district of the city, depicting a different aspect of Valencia every year. Each night during the last few days of Las Fallas they are switched on with an amazing display of lights accompanied by music, before remaining on for most of the night. Walking through this tunnel is truly magical, like stepping into a fairytale.
The tunnel of lights is only one part of what the nights of Las Fallas have to offer you. There is no need to choose a particular venue as the streets are filled with stalls selling cocktails, traditional food such as buñuelos (pumpkin fritters) and churros, and huge disco tents playing dance music. The atmosphere is guaranteed to be electric as the whole city celebrates with you, many letting off their own fireworks of their own accord! In true Spanish style, the party lasts right through the night – why not stay up until the official ‘wake up call’ given by marching bands every morning at 8am?!
An ending like no other
Everything that Las Fallas has to offer is bound to be unforgettable – it really is a festival like no other, transforming Valencia for a month every year and anticipated by an entire city for the remaining 11 months. However, the final night, known as ‘La Cremà’, is the moment that is guaranteed to take your breath away. Despite the time, effort and money put into making each incredible Falla sculpture, the festival comes to an abrupt end between 10:00 pm and 12:00 am on 19th March every year when every single statue except for this year’s winner is set on fire. Proceeded by a round of fireworks lit by a ‘Fallera’ and accompanied with music from a marching band, the sight of these sculptures meeting a fiery death is both surreal and vaguely sinister, given that the highly coloured ‘ninots’ give the strong impression of coming from a Disney film! There is also something very unique and awe-inspiring about being able to walk around a city that’s on fire…
Traditionally, the largest and most special Falla, which is given pride of place in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square), is burned last, and is therefore the centrepiece of the show, accompanied with the most impressive music and fireworks. When this sculpture is finally gone, leaving only a pile of ash in its wake, the finality with which the festival has ended really hits you. This is the moment at which Valencia bears its soul, as emotions overflow leading many to burst into tears in the street. It would truly be impossible to underestimate the importance of this festival to so many of the Valencian people.
Las Fallas may seem to be a bit of a hidden gem – many people from outside Spain have never heard of it, even those that have been to Spain several times in the past. Despite this, Valencia’s population is said to treble every year in these few days, as Spaniards and those in the know from elsewhere flood to the city. I would therefore recommend booking in advance to guarantee yourself a spot, and let Valencia give you a show you will never forget. Las Fallas really does take over every aspect of the city, treating all five senses and constantly providing something new to experience. Anyone who has enjoyed processions, street parties or firework shows in the past will love Las Fallas, but be prepared to leave your expectations behind you as this festival will exceed them all!
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