Love the smell of gunpowder in the morning? Does the sight of mangled statues and technicolor fireworks set your pulse racing? Still nodding profusely? Good news, the chaotic festival known as ‘Las Fallas’ may be right up your street. In mid-March, this smoky, colorful celebration of puppets and pyrotechnics rolls into the eastern Spanish city of Valencia.
It goes without saying that the focal point of the Las Fallas festival is its fallas, giant statuesque puppets constructed from cardboard, wood, and plaster. These usually portray current events or contemporary political satire and are created by a crew of arty volunteers in the months leading up to the festival. Strange but true fact, some fallas are so heavy that they actually require cranes to move them into position.
Some other interesting facts…
Las Fallas is one of the most unique festivals in Spain – and Europe for that matter. At no other festival do you see such huge efforts being poured into creative projects, only for them to be intentionally destroyed in a blaze of glory. Fallas-making is a very serious business in Valencia. Many of the festival’s fallas can cost up to $70,000 to construct. In the past, some groups have even dedicated one whole year to building their statue.
The origin of the festival is a bit of a gray area, but most trace the fires back to early pagan rituals that celebrated the beginning of spring and the change in seasons. There are other theories, however. During the sixteenth century, the Valencian working classes used a very basic version of a streetlight to illuminate pathways during long winter nights. Lamps were hung on wooden structures called parots, but as spring began and the evenings grew warmer and brighter, these parots were not required and were often unceremoniously burned on St Joseph’s Day (March 19th).
Whatever the reason for Las Fallas, the fiesta is very much a working-class event, meaning you won’t find many well-heeled locals dirtying their hands with raucous Las Fallas festivities.
Once every neighborhood has completed its own falla, they are placed around the city overnight so that locals and tourists wake up to an array of surprise visitors. This ritual is called the plantá. The plantá heralds the real beginning of the festivities, meaning visitors have four days to inspect the displays and sample the party atmosphere. Fireworks shows reach their peak on March 16th.
There’s no getting away from the loudness of Las Fallas. Valencia prides itself in being the fireworks capital of the world. Every day at 2 pm, an ear-popping explosion of sound takes over the city. The mascletá, as it is known, is so terrifyingly deafening that pregnant women are prohibited from attending. Once the firecrackers are ignited, they are timed to fall to the ground and shake for five to 10 minutes, making the mascletá more of an audio event than a visual spectacle.
The finale of the Las Fallas festival involves each falla going up in flames on the last night of the festivities. Half an hour after midnight, the best-judged falla is set alight.
Melted statues not your scene? Other events taking place in Valencia over Las Fallas include bullfights, parades, paella contests as well as beauty pageants.
Meanwhile, if you’ve got the time to travel to Spain in the summer, you’ll find spin-off versions of Las Fallas taking place in June in many towns throughout the country. The most famous Las Fallas-inspired festival takes place in the city of Alicante, where locals celebrate the Hogueras de San Juan, “The Bonfires of Saint John” from June 20th to June 24th.
UPDATE: Las Fallas for 2021 has been canceled, but you can still plan for 2022!
How about you? Have you ever been to Las Fallas in Valencia or any other part of Spain?
For a visual summary of this post, check out my Las Fallas web story!