LAS FALLAS [Part 2] — Hide your blushes, it’s pronounced ‘fy-yas’

In the first part of these two articles about the Fallas in Valencia, I described the days leading up to this massive event and the main fiesta itself. This article will concentrate on the important last day and the night of the burning. An event I promise that once experienced will never be forgotten.

THE PARADES

Typical Falleras in one of the parades. Thanks to valenciacamperpark for permission to use this image.

On the 17th and 18th March there are huge parades (they take hours to pass — I kid you not!). In the final parade on the last day the beautifully dressed Falleras carry bouquets of red or white carnations and when they reach the Cathedral square they toss them to the men who are building the most gigantic floral Virgin Mary in the world. She’s as high as the cathedral and the men hang on to the scaffolding structure as they stuff the bouquet of flowers into the gaps. It’s quite hairy to watch, as there doesn’t seem to be any health and safety here.

Virgin Mary figure made with flowers. Photo by permission of the Valencia-Tourist Guide.

It’s easy to get a front row view of this at some time or another because the parades last such a long time and there’s such abundance of events to see that people keep moving around the city.

When I was there it amused me that each time a band (and there are hundreds of them) approached the square they stopped playing whatever music they had on the go and each and every one of them started to play ‘Valencia’.

THE BURNING!

March 19th is the night where all of the Fallas are burned.

At 10 pm it is the burning of the ninots (smaller displays) and at 11:00 pm it is the turn of whichever huge Fallas has been voted the best in the competition. Midnight it’s the turn of the rest of the Fallas. The burnings last until 2:30 am in the morning.

Photo by kind permission of AP

For each of the burnings there is major pomp. The Fallas designers are photographed with the Fallas for the last time and music starts the statue’s final farewell.

Meanwhile the local firemen hose down the trees and nearby buildings (you’d be extremely foolish to stand on your balcony at this point for it will not only be dangerous with smoke and fire debris, but the water hosing down the building will render it a little like Niagara Falls).

Huge black smoke rises from the Fallas and the crowd cheers every time a piece falls to the ground. Fires can rise up to 50-feet tall and continue until the Fallas is turned into a small smouldering spot on the ground.

WHY DO IT?

So why do it? Well apart from the Spanish love of a good party, tradition has it that many years ago carpenters disposed of unwanted pieces of wood by burning them on a specific night to celebrate the spring equinox. It seems the Church became involved and altered the burning date to coincide with the celebration of the festival of Saint Joseph the patron saint of carpenters.

As time passed the wood began to be moulded to look like a person and would be dressed in clothing (bit like the UK’s Guy Fawkes on November 5th bonfires). In time people of the neighbourhoods organized the building of the Fallas in their areas and the typically intricate constructions, including their various figures, were born.

Nowadays Styrofoam and papier-mâché have replaced wood. The figures usual depict political scenes or humorous ridicule of the city officials and world politics.

My one gripe is that most of the information boards explaining each Fallas is written in Valenciano (not even Spanish) so unless the figures are obvious I can’t understand the humour.

They are fantastic works of art, which at the end of the festival are purposely destroyed by fire. It seems such a pity but boy it is such a good night to be on the streets.

On the 21st the city goes back to normal. There is nothing left to indicate that a huge city wide festival even happened, and it is on this day that the Fallas committees start their plans for next year’s exciting Las Fallas festival.

I’m afraid you’ve missed the festival this year, but you can always pencil in the dates for next year. If you want to go you’ll need to book your hotel early, as after Christmas it’s very difficult to find a free hotel room in the City.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.