Las Fallas is a festival that takes place annually in Valencia, Spain for San José. The day of San José is March 19th but Fallas itself begins officially on the 15th and unofficially on the 1st of March. Our program director, Laura, says that for her Fallas begins the day that the little boy that lives down the street throws a firecracker at her behind. This festival is hard to explain, and there are many different versions but I’ll do my best in giving a short run-down here. In the Christian tradition, San José, or Saint Joseph, is the husband of Mary and a carpenter. He is the patron saint of workers/carpenters and it was from this group of artisans that the celebration of Las Fallas began in Valencia. Carpenters would make a bonfire each spring from the scrap wood left over from the winter. Children in the neighborhood obviously were attracted to this event and eventually the adults got into it too. Over time the bonfires of scrap wood took on shapes and clothing–sometimes they would be recognizable people from the community. Today the scrap wood has been replaced with polyurethane and the statues are commissioned by various organizations and designed by masterful artists/engineers. They are beautiful, somewhat gaudy compilations of popular characters, grotesque exaggerations of people and animals, and all generally have a satirical feel. These statues are officially called ninots or fallas and there are several for each city district. However the word “fallas” comes from the Latin word for torch and the festival is so called because only one out of the hundreds of ninots, supposedly chosen by popular vote, will survive to take a place in the Fallas Museum. All the other statues are burned to cinders on the night of the 19th to celebrate the day of the patron saint of the carpenters who burned their wood each spring before Christianity existed.
Life is fire-themed in Valencia during the week of celebrations. There is a state of 24/7 partying and the days and nights are punctuated frequently with the sound of explosions from the firecrackers. Spain, the second noisiest country in the world (Japan is number one) is capable of making a lot of noise and everyone joins in. The citizens of Valencia from the very young in strollers to the very old stay up until absurd hours of the morning throwing firecrackers, eating churros and chorizo, drinking, dancing, yelling and generally partying. It was an experience and the police are always standing by, but it was fun. Granted I was in Paris for the beginning of the madness, but when I got back everything was in full swing. I went around and saw all the fallas that I could. Some of them were disturbing and some were precious but they were all worth seeing. Public transportation was packed but Valencia’s weather seemed to be in party-mode as well since the days were gorgeous as were the nights. We walked everywhere and there was always a parade, a firework display or something of the like to be seen. No one sleeps much and on the 19th when festivities are at their height the burning ninots are a sight to behold. My friends and I watched one of the biggest ones go up in flames and it was incredible. The fire department was at the ready to quench the blaze and the crowd had to move back because the heat was incredible. It was beautiful and scary at the same time, and as I stood and watched the blazing styrofoam that had once been an exquisite work of art, I wondered if the artist was anywhere in the crowd. I wondered how it felt to build something knowing that it would eventually be consumed by fire. And I wondered why fire is so fascinating to watch that a whole city full of people comes out to see it.
They say that most of the citizens of Valencia go away for Fallas because once you have lived through Fallas one time, you never feel the need to live through it again. I see that. It’s crazy and loud and I didn’t even see most of it or stay up particularly late for it, but I even though I only experienced it mildly, I feel satisfied with my Fallas experience. There is no way to fully capture the essence of Fallas without actually living through it. Wikipedia has a very good article on it, so if you’re thirsty for more information, go do some reading. I will be posting pictures very soon too so you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about.
After seeing the big burning of the statues, Amytza, Jacky and I went and blew up some firecrackers. We collected empty cups and cans and experimented with the sounds and explosions we could get from them. We were the kind of tired where everything was funny, and as we blew holes in empty coke cans, I somehow felt very at home in Valencia. Mom and Dad are coming tomorrow and I can’t wait to show them around. I think I finally feel like this is my city. Pictures of Paris are up, so go check them out!
Days until Mom and Dad come: 0
Days until I go to Italy: 3