Festival of fire and thunder: Las Fallas in Valencia is celebrated in honor of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. The festival came from humble origins, when the city’s carpentry workshops used to burn their scraps on the eve of Saint Joseph’s Day. Today, Las Fallas in Valencia is a huge event that attracts nearly a million visitors and has earned the title Festival of International Touristic Interest. The work of numerous artisan workshops in the city and the Valencian Community is dedicated to Las Fallas, as the celebration has spread to many other towns in the region, lasting from March 15th to 19th.
Originally, carpenters burned their wood shavings and splinters on the eve of Saint Joseph’s Day. In the 18th century, instead of discarded pieces of wood, they started burning wooden boxes displaying crude wax dolls dressed in old clothing and satirical posters poking fun at someone from each neighborhood of the city. This all evolved thanks to the creativity of local artists who in the early 20th century began to create all kinds of figures, known as ninots, from papier-mâché. Today they use polystyrene, a malleable soft plastic that makes the monuments shinier. The fallas have continuously grown in size until reaching 32 meters high. Today, 385 fallas are located in the city and over 250 are scattered throughout the rest of the province. Their time on the streets and in the plazas ends when they are consumed by flames in the Cremá, on the night of Saint Joseph’s Day. Each falla consists of a central figure, which is the tallest one, from which other smaller ones are attached, alluding to one or several themes explained by signs.
Everything involved in the creation of the monuments falls on the Association of Las Fallas Artists, while the organization of the festival is the responsibility of the Central Committee of Las Fallas which encompasses several commissions from all over the city. They have meeting places (Casal Faller) where the members decide on the theme of their monument and how to secure funding for it and the other costs of the festival. The Casal Faller also serve as meeting places where celebrations and cultural/social activities take place, making them lively social centers.
There are also junior committees, made up exclusively by children who set up (or “plant,” in the jargon of Las Fallas) their fallas, with kid-friendly themes and aesthetics. The fallas are installed on the streets on March 15th, known as Plantá day, although some exceptionally large ones have had to be set up weeks beforehand using cranes. The cremá (burning) of the fallas is the climax of the festival and is preceded by several symbolic ceremonies. The first of all is the Crida (proclamation), on the last Sunday in February, when the Fallera Mayor receives the key to the city from the mayor. For several days, a huge tent houses a display of nearly 800 ninots, the best ones as determined by each committee. The committees parade them around in festive processions with the hope of currying favor with the public and earning the pardon that saves them from being burned.
The Ninot Cavalcade, the weekend before the week of Las Fallas, includes several committees which stage satirical representations of social, political, or sports-related themes. The members, dressed up as ninots, travel on floats and compete for various prizes. The children have their own parade.
There is another cavalcade known as the El Reino Cavalcade or the International Folklore Cavalcade. This is a large parade which represents the folklore of the three provinces of the Valencian Community (Valencia, Alicante, and Castellón) and other regions of Spain as well as other countries. One of the defining characteristics of Las Fallas is the pyrotechnics displays, whether they be fireworks or firecrackers. From March 1st to 19th, the Mascletá takes place at 2:00 in the afternoon in Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Its name comes from a type of firecracker, the masclet, and it consists of a thunderous explosion that can exceed 120 decibels, making the ground shake.
Every morning, in what is called the Despertà, the partiers wake up the city by setting off masclets and firecrackers that explode when they hit the ground (tro de bac), although not everyone is happy about this practice, specifically those who only celebrate on the 19th. Every night from the 15th to the 19th between 1:00 and 1:30 in the morning, fireworks are set off in the Alameda area alongside the Turia River. The most noteworthy display is the Nit del Foc (“Night of Fire”), on the night of the 18th into the 19th, in which thousands of kilograms of gunpowder light up the skies over Valencia for nearly half an hour for an audience of over a million people.
As a prelude to the burning of the fallas of Valencia, the Cavalcade of Fire has taken place on the afternoon of the 19th every year since 2005. This has revived the tradition of the comparsas (troupes) dressed as devils and floats dedicated to the god Pluto lighting the fallas on fire. This is a thrilling correfoc which travels around historical downtown Valencia. Finally, on the night of the 19th, the moment arrives for the Cremá, the ceremony that closes out the festival, in which the fallas set up on the streets of Valencia are burned. These monuments have taken a lot of resources, many hours of work, and the tremendous talent and creativity of artisans who have already gotten to work preparing for next year’s celebration. As far as religious elements go, the Offering to Our Lady of the Forsaken—the patron saint of the city and the entire Valencian Community—is a religious ceremony with a folk essence which takes place in the afternoon and early evening on March 17th and 18th. Each fallera offer the Virgin a bouquet of flowers, giving shape to a spectacular floral tapestry like the cloak that covers the body of the statue, which is positioned 14 meters above the floor.