For those who aren’t familiar, Las Fallas is the biggest celebration in Valencia. It’s a celebration meant for reflecting on the last twelve months. Therefore, the “Fallas,” or monuments, in each neighborhood depict critiques on the past year. Neighbors come together to help raise money for the endeavor. It begins with “La Crida,” or commencement of Las Fallas at the still-standing, twelfth century towers leading into the old city. There is a pageant in which girls will dawn dresses styled from centuries past. They can weigh up to 15 pounds and cost much, much more. Even those who don’t compete in the actual pageant, like my little host sister Blanca, can wear these dresses around the city and on the night of “La Ofrenda” where each “Fallera” decorates the cape of the Virgin Mary in La Plaza de La Virgin with processions of flowers. All the while, daily “Mascletas,” or fireworks, occur at two o’clock. Some neighborhoods will have concerts in the streets every night, with hundreds gathering for the party. Other neighborhoods, like Rusafa in the old city, will host fantastic light shows that even more people attend. Each night, at 1:30 AM crowds will rush to El Río for another round of fireworks, which last up to 40 minutes and get increasingly better each night!
Coming from a small town in Nebraska, the crowds are absolutely indescribable. I hated it at first. Attending a Mascleta will force you to be there one hour before and two hours after, just waiting for the densely packed streets to clear. Is it possible for a city to teach you patience? I think it’s happening. The cool thing about crowds here that sets Valencia apart from usual rushing crowds in the city is that everyone is so nice and they apparently have nowhere to be at any specific time. This inevitably leads to loitering and drinking in the streets. These parties continue most of the day and the entire night. If you want to come to Valencia during Las Fallas, don’t plan on getting any sleep.
Finally, those monuments that each neighborhood spends unbelievable amounts of money on (200,000 euro to be exact), are promptly burned at the end of Las Fallas in an act called “La Crema”. People think “Oh my word, that’s ridiculous. ” Obviously it’s ridiculous, but it’s so cool, and who doesn’t love a good bonfire or better yet, four hundred of them?
What I should mention is that Fallas means “failures”. So it goes without saying that after recognizing all the wrong in the world, burning those failures in order to create a new beginning is profound. It’s also extremely emotional for a lot of people, and with good reason. The artists designing each Falla are renowned for their work and praised among their community. Surprisingly, only one caricature in one of the 400 Fallas is saved annually and put in Las Fallas Museum. This year, I was lucky enough to see that happen for myself. Shortly before the burning of this Falla, men came in to carry off the model. The model was of a Spanish soldier standing with his children on top of the world, apparently experiencing a time of peace, as bombs were placed around them depicting the waging wars going on right now. Listed on each bomb was a country of unrest: Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Ukraine, and more. It was sobering to say the least, and rightly claimed the best caricature amongst all the different Fallas this year. Like I said, this holiday is cool.
While my host mom admits that the monuments represent a critique of the past year, she also stressed that Las Fallas is about getting out and meeting people. I found that striking, especially while encompassed in a time when people are so often glued to their phones or constantly trying to stay in-tune to social media. Las Fallas rips you away from the computer, away from your friends back home, and thankfully away from your stash of Nutella. It throws you into street parties, strangers, parades, and devious neighborhood kids with fireworks. Seriously, look out for them.
Las Fallas is a celebration meant for socializing and meeting new friends; it’s what turns this city into a bustling, sleep-deprived party of 3 million for an entire week.