The Pyrotechnic Celebration of Las Fallas de Valencia
There are amazing Spanish traditions and then there are Las Fallas de Valencia. This spectacular festival centered around fire and satire is one of the most incredible Spanish cultural expressions.
Today, I’ll take you to the northern Spanish city of Valencia where during a few days of March every year, people gather to burn sculptures that they had spent the previous year creating. I’ll explore the origins of such a fascinating festival, its meaning, and some of its most iconic traditions.
What Is Las Fallas de Valencia?
Las Fallas de Valencia is a festival that takes place in the Spanish city of Valencia every March. This celebration is an eclectic mix of tradition, satire, art, and a lot of fire, that’s among the most unique and original festivities in the Spanish-speaking world.
Las Fallas has become such an important festival that it’s been recognized by UNESCO, and brings over a million visitors to Valencia every year. There are many traditions involved in this celebration, but perhaps the most famous one is the burning of huge sculptures located across the city on March 19, to mark the end of the festivities.
It’s widely accepted that the origins of Las Fallas can be traced back to the practice of carpenters and other craftsmen of burning wooden structures that were used as lamps during the winter to celebrate the arrival of spring on March 19.
However, nobody seems to know exactly when this practice started. Some researchers believe the tradition can be traced back to the Middle Ages or even to pre-Christian times, others mention 1497 as a possible starting date, or point to a 1740 decree prohibiting the burning of monuments on the streets, or 1901 as the first time awards were given to participants.
The truth is that the first ever Fallas Week was celebrated in 1932, and the event has grown exponentially ever since, becoming one of the most extraordinary Spanish cultural festivals.
Falla is a word from the Valencian dialect which loosely means “torch.” The meaning itself has evolved along the centuries, referring to special torches that were lit in the 13th century, to bonfires lit in 16th-century parties, and to burning dolls in the 18th century.
We can be sure, however, that the word is closely associated with fire and the burning of something. Also, the plural of the word falla is different in Spanish (fallas) than in Valencian (falles), which is why you may find people referring to this festival with those two different terms.
Finally, when someone talks about the fallas they can be referring to the whole festival, the sculptures, the fires or even the communities of neighbors that build the figures.
Las Fallas de Valencia is a festival with many original and colorful traditions. These are some of the most interesting ones:
Every day from March 1st to 19th at 2:00 pm, a fireworks spectacle like no other takes place in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento of Valencia. The masclet is a type of fireworks that explode with a loud noise when they’re high in the sky.
The city authorities recommend visitors to keep their mouth open during the Mascletà, in order to protect their ears from the massive noise produced by the fireworks.
Nit del Foc
Although there are many firework spectacles during las Fallas de Valencia, the biggest of them all is the one taking place on the night of March 18th. That night has been aptly named the “Night of Fire” or Nit del Foc.
During the Nit del Foc more than 4,000 kilos of fireworks get lit every year at Paseo de la Alameda, while hundreds of thousands of people enjoy such an amazing spectacle displayed in the skies of Valencia.
La Plantà takes place on March 15th, and it’s the moment when the artists finally take their sculptures to the streets of Valencia and the judges choose the best ones. It marks the culmination of a long year of work by the artists who make the sculptures and the start of the Semana Fallera or “Fallera Week.”
During the afternoon of March 17th, every participant Fallas commission parade from their own neighborhoods to the Plaza de la Virgen. They all bring a lot of flowers to offer to the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken), who is the patron saint of Valencia, and create an extraordinary 15-meter high representation of the Virgin’s cape made entirely with flowers.
La Cremà is the most famous of las Fallas de Valencia traditions. It takes place on March 19th, and consists of burning every single one of the beautiful Fallas or original sculptures presented during La Plantà.
The Falla that wins the 1st prize has the honor to be burned at 12:30 am, once all the other Fallas have burned and just before the festival ends. At 1:00 am, the Falla from the City of Valencia, which doesn’t participate in the competition, starts burning to mark the end of one of the most fire-loving celebrations in the world.
Interesting Facts About Las Fallas de Valencia
Now some cool facts about this most amazing of festivals:
The sculptures that get burned during La Cremà are made of wood and papier maché and can reach up to 15 meters high. Every year, around 350 of these spectacular sculptures decorate the streets of Valencia before ending in ashes on the early morning of March 19th.
19 Days of Fallas
Although the Semana Fallera runs from March 15th to 19th, Las Fallas de Valencia has an official length of 19 days starting on March 1st. During the first 15 days of the festival, different events take place such as the daily Mascletá, while in the Semana Fallera the main traditions take center stage.
Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
On November 30th, 2016, UNESCO inscribed Las Fallas de Valencia on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The traditional food to eat during the festival of Las Fallas de Valencia are the buñuelos de calabaza or pumpkin fritters. If pumpkin is not your thing, figue fritters are also an option.
Final Thoughts About Las Fallas de Valencia
Learning a language is a journey into a new culture. Learning Spanish is one of the most amazing journeys you can embark on, as the culture behind this language is so rich and diverse that includes many different countries.
Las Fallas de Valencia is one of the main cultural events of the Spanish-speaking world. Learning about it, brings you closer to understanding the culture that produced the language you want to learn.
Have you been to Las Fallas de Valencia? Did I miss some important information about the event that you experienced first-hand? Or, would you like me to write about any other Spanish cultural event that you love? Leave me a comment below and let me know! Let’s start a conversation with Spanish students from all over the world.
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