If anyone knows how to throw a party, it’s Spaniards! And not just any party. Do you want to experience one of the greatest festivals in Spain? To try the typical beverage and food at the street stalls? To parade all night (and day!) long? Then, you should come and experience Las Fallas! It is one of the most important festivities in the Valencian Community and is celebrated from the 15th to the 19th of March every year.
There are many theories about the origin of Las Fallas. Some are more accurate than others, however, we will try to bring you closer to the spirit of this Valencia festival as we know it today! So let’s dive into this Spanish fiesta!
History of Las Fallas
The etymology of the word falla dates back to the Middle Ages. It was formed from the Latin word facula to denominate torches placed on the top of watchtowers. They were the only source of light, especially for the soldiers who used them to light their way into the camp.
People would also use them as lighting at celebrations. Later, this term was adopted to describe bonfires lit during the patron saint festivities. After you read here everything you need to know about Las Fallas of Valencia, how it’s celebrated and what different parts of the celebration mean, you will see why this word makes sense.
Origin of Las Fallas
It is believed that Les Falles (in the Valencian language) were initiated by carpenters; they would burn the old junk from their workshops in a purifying bonfire on the eve before the day celebrating their patron Saint Joseph’s (El día de San José). The purpose of the workshop cleaning was to get rid of the old things before spring. That’s why the symbol of fire is so important.
Along with the things they no longer needed, they would burn their parots too, wooden structures for hanging their lamps. With the winter ending and longer daylight, the parots were no longer necessary.
However, some authors defend the theory about an older origin of Las Fallas in Valencia. They explain how the cult of fire was a part of a pagan tradition in many Spanish regions. Spaniards would perform the bonfire rituals during different festivities, such as Christmas, San Juan’s Eve, etc. Although until 1774, there is no written proof or documentation to testify to the veracity of this theory, the only reference is the tradition of the carpenters.
Concept of Las Fallas
The Valencia festival as we know it today starts on the 15th and lasts till the 19th of March. However, Las Fallas last much longer. The whole concept of the celebration begins with the installation of fallas, wooden constructions several meters long. They are also called fallas monuments and the majority depict certain characters, whether real people (politicians, actors) or cartoon characters or others. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Las Fallas don’t last just for four days but throughout the whole month of March. However, the official announcement of Las Fallas in Valencia begins with la mascletá at the Town Hall Square at 2 p.m. and crida at the Serranos Towers at 7 p.m. on the 27th of February. Crida or Cridá is the so-called Las Fallas call, a starting signal where la fallera mayor (fallas queen) announces the arrival of the festivities. Other municipal leaders accompany her and give her the keys to the city, representing the beginning of the festivity. The event ends with fireworks in different colors.
There’s a fun fact related to the Valencia festival. During the ’30s, the celebration lasted for two days only and it consisted of la plantà, the installation of the wooden structures, the visit of fallas and cremà, the burning ceremony. Over the years, falleros introduced more content to the celebration and made it a genuine spectacle.
Las Fallas and Ninots
Ninots are multicolored cardboard figures created by artistas falleros (fallas artists) and together they make one falla. These meters-long figures are also made of wood, plastic, and fabrics so it’s easy to set them on fire during la cremà.
A ninot usually surrounds the central piece, called remates. One falla can have many ninots. Together they all represent a certain scene. Sometimes, fallas remind you of an actor or politician, and it’s because they do! Fallas artists don’t hesitate to create a work of art with a satirical tone by adding a humorous verse, phrase, or motto to it. You can easily see a falla representing a celebrity in a man’s body and with a woman’s head, a cartoon character, or something funnier.
From the beginning of February till mid-March, there is an Exhibition of Ninots in Valencia. The visitors can admire nearly 800 different ninots exhibited in the Museo fallero in the City of Arts and Sciences. The artists present their figures to the public hoping that their ninot is the one that will be pardoned and saved from the flames. A pardoned ninot is called ninot indultat. The final verdict depends on the popular vote.
Throughout the years, the fallas artists worked on improving their art to perfection. If we go back to the story about the carpenters, we can say that they gradually added rags and clothes to the parots they would burn. In time, these started gaining a human-like aspect.
Today, ninots look impeccable! With all those colors and figures, you can see a huge effort behind it. The fallas artists work all year round to create the award-winning ninots. Even people who don’t like Las Fallas have to admit their work is admirable.
Falla infantil is a maximum of three meters in diameter and it is dedicated to children. As their name suggests, they are all about childhood themes and generally don’t show criticism of society. Their installation is set for the morning of March 15th and their cremà for March 19th.
Las Fallas Events
The Valencian streets are filled with falleros and they perform many different activities every day during Las Fallas of Valencia. If you happen to be here, you will most probably be awakened by drums and music every morning at around 8 a.m. Every Fallas Commission has its own music band that parades through the neighborhood several times a day.
In the following text, we will describe all the most important events you can attend during Las Fallas.
Let the Fallas begin!
As the name suggests, la despertà means awakening. In other words, every morning, los falleros wake up their neighbors with the music on the streets or by throwing firecrackers or masclets on the ground. These high-impact fuse firecrackers make a lot of noise early in the morning. La despertà is usually criticized by the older citizens and generally by the ones who dislike Las Fallas.
Starting from March 1st till March 19th, every day at 2 p.m. la mascletà takes place in front of the Town Hall Square. The event is named after the type of firecracker that is used, el masclet. Hundreds of people gather to see the spectacular colorful fireworks, usually in the color of the Spanish flag. It might seem strange to the tourists and foreigners who visit Valencia during this period to see fireworks in the middle of the day.
But that’s the beauty of it! Valencians say that this is one of the most important and valued performances during the Valencia festival. You have to experience it by seeing and, most of all, hearing it. They compare la mascletà with a concert performance because the sound of the fireworks can reach over 120 decibels in less than 10 minutes!
On the night between the 14th and 15th of March, the installation of the Fallas monuments takes place on the squares and intersections of Valencia. The event is called la plantà and, if you happen to be there, you will see the members of that particular falla setting up the ninots and all the scene that goes along with it.
During the morning of March 15, children’s fallas are installed, whereas the large fallas monuments are set up during the night between the 15th and the 16th. These setups must be finished by the 16th at 8 in the morning because this is when the jury comes to judge them.
L’Ofrena de Flors
We could say that l’ofrena de flors or flower offering is another most exciting and anticipated event of Las Fallas. It takes place on the 17th and 18th of March. A statue of the Virgin of the Defenseless (Mare de Déu dels Desamparats) is placed on the square named after her. Las falleras and falleros leave hundreds of flower bouquets with the utmost respect to the patron saint of the city and the whole Valencian Community.
The Virgin’s statue is not really a statue. It is a wooden construction of 14 meters in height that looks like a scaffold and represents her mantle. Los vestidors are the people who “dress” the Virgin and who decorate her mantle by putting the bouquets that each fallera gifted. The decorating pattern is different every year thanks to the coordinator of the vestidors and their team. You cannot come closer to the statue because it is guarded day and night to prevent someone from stealing the flowers. The Virgin’s mantle is usually removed 3 to 4 days after the festivity.
You don’t have to be religious to see the beauty in this scene. In her hands, Mare de Déu carries a baby Jesus and looks at her devotees with love and compassion. It is a very moving scene, for both falleros and the audience watching and flowers give the whole scene an almost biblical tone.
Els Castells and Nit del Foc
Spaniards like to celebrate their tradition properly. And what better way than fireworks! Since the beginning of Las Fallas, every night between 12 and 1.30 a.m., there are firework displays called castillos de fuegos artificiales (it literally means the castles of firework). One of the favorite Fallas events among young people! The pyrotechnicians use many kilos of gunpowder to make this event quite a spectacle. The show begins in the old bed of the Turia river in Alameda.
The Night of the Fire or Nit del Foc is one of the longest and most beautiful fire castles. It is lit in the night between March 18 and 19 and it lasts more than 20 minutes illuminating the Valencian sky. Without a doubt, it is the most visited show!
Cavalcata del Foc
We all know that the fallas exhibited on the squares and streets of Valencia will not survive the flames of la cremà. This is the moment that everyone is waiting for. However, before Las Fallas of Valencia burn, the event must be announced properly. And that is precisely what happens during la cavalcata del foc or the fire ride.
This fire ride dates back to the tradition of the 1930s and, especially, to the scene that represents a parade of devils and carriages of the god Pluto that come to burn the fallas. This show takes place on March 19 from 7 p.m. between Calle Colón and Puerta de la Mar.
On the night of the fire or la nit de la cremà, Las Fallas in Valencia ends. According to the tradition, the last day, March 19, is the day when all the fallas monuments have to vanish in the flames, except for the ones that have been pardoned.
The Spaniards eagerly await the last day. Such a moving moment for Valencians! The night of fire begins with a firework display lit by la fallera mayor. At 10 p.m. the children’s fallas are burned, except for the one that has won the first prize in the special section. In this category, this one is the last to burn, at 10.30 p.m.
If you are in Valencia during Las Fallas, you will realize that the last night brings a roller coaster of emotions. People are excited and they are eagerly waiting for the fire to start, but most of all, they want to see the monument at the Town Hall Square burning. At 11 p.m. the municipal children’s falla is burned and at midnight all the large ones. Half an hour later, they burn the one that won the first prize in the Special Section.
La Cremà of Municipal Falla
The spectacle everyone is waiting for starts at 1 a.m. La crema of the municipal falla! Usually, this one is the largest and always carries some message or symbol. Before the municipal falla is set on fire, the act is always preceded by a fireworks display of about 5-6 minutes. Afterward, la fallera mayor lights the fire, and the explosive that is linked with ropes all over the falla explodes one by one until the ninots start to burn.
Something that we haven’t mentioned before is the Valencian fire department. During the whole cremà, they are running through the whole city, from falla to falla, securing the scene that is about to be set on fire. The Valencian firefighters are an essential factor during Las Fallas of Valencia and la crema cannot start without them.
Las Fallas Traditional Clothing
To learn how the traditional costumes came to be, we’d have to go back to the 16th century. Women farmers used to wear similar work outfits way before the Valencia festival was first celebrated. Today, these costumes are very luxurious and expensive and they’re worn only for special occasions.
The traditional garment is probably the most beautiful element of Las Fallas. All day and night long, the streets are full of falleros. Hundreds of girls and boys, men and women parade down the Valencian streets wearing traditional gowns made of silk, embroidered golden threads, and other expensive materials. The cheapest traditional fallera dress starts at 1,500 euros, so you can imagine the price of the costumes that require more material and craftsmanship!
Men also wear traditional clothes. There are two types of clothing for men: saragüell suit with wide linen pants and torrentí suit with tighter pants and some sort of a vest or jacket called chopetí.
As for the hair, women wear three buns and hair extensions in a form of a braid. They use needles and decorative combs called peinetas to hold the buns. All we can say is that they look spectacular!
We came to the end of this article, yet there is so much more to say about Las Fallas. For the majority of Valencians, March is an important month. Don’t be surprised if you see many emotional Spaniards on the streets, especially falleros and members of their commissions. Las Fallas remind them of their legacy, how it persisted for decades and improved over time. To participate in something that unites tradition with the modern era is a true blessing for Valencians.
In the end, you don’t need to read much about the celebration to experience Las Fallas in Valencia and grasp the meaning behind the ninots. You need to live it on the streets, with a bunch of cheerful Spaniards and foreigners who visit Valencia in spring, and enjoy the delicious food!
Now, tell us:
- Have you ever visited Valencia during Fallas?
- How did you feel and what was the most fascinating thing to experience?
- Is there something you would add?
We can’t wait to hear all about your Fallas experience in the comments below!
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