As a foreigner, I still find the enthusiasm Valencian people have for noise and fire sort of hard to understand. I can’t deny that the Fallas festival made a big impression on me, though: I experienced it last year, and this year I decided to go again. The truth is that I could have gone to Valencia at any other time, but I chose Fallas. I mean, it’s basically a continuous street party! Let me tell you a little bit about it and why it’s so extraordinary.
Why, when and where?
Fallas (Falles in Valencian) is a traditional celebration in the Valencian Community that happens every year between the 15th and the 19th of March. The majority of the events take place in Valencia, while other towns and villages also hold similar celebrations but on a smaller scale. The purpose of Fallas is supposed to be to commemorate Saint Joseph, even though their actual historical beginning didn’t have anything to do with religion. It started to develop in the Middle Ages when artisans burned broken artefacts and pieces of wood to celebrate the arrival of spring (and to get rid of them, probably).
What actually happens for Fallas?
A quarter of the city’s population is supposedly actively involved in Fallas. Each neighbourhood in Valencia has a Casal faller, an organised group of people who meet throughout the year, plan and produce a falla. A falla is a construction made of paper, wood and wax, a beautiful statue, a work of art…that they happily burn on the 19th. Artists make it, and it usually represents a satirical theme the members had previously agreed on. Each neighbourhood has a big and a small falla (falla infantil); the latter doesn’t represent a satirical theme. The fallas are completed on the 15th and can be observed for four more days before they’re burned.
The important elements of Fallas
Falleros and falleras
You can see people dressed in traditional clothing parading through the streets or hanging out at their Casal faller throughout the festival. The dresses, especially for females, are beautiful and very expensive from what I’ve heard. Women have complicated hairstyles and perfect makeup. They look like they’ve spent days getting ready (which they probably have).
All Casal fallers have their own parties (mostly in tents), while there are some bigger open-air stages in the centre too. People usually go there after the fireworks and stay until four when it all closes (pretty early for Spanish standards). The music is a mix of reggaeton and Spanish pop and rock, but you can hear electronic music as well. The crowds are absolutely huge.
The most important are the ones that sell churros, buñuelos and porras, traditional fried pastries that people usually dip in hot chocolate. You can also buy everything from the popular sunflower seeds (pipas) to various alcoholic drinks, jewellery, souvenirs and so on.
There are fireworks every night between the 15th and the 18th. They somehow get bigger, longer and more spectacular every night. The last one is on the 18th for La Nit del Foc (‘the night of fire’ in Valencian), and it’s the best one. There are small fireworks next to every falla on the 19th too, not to mention the private fireworks that people set off pretty much everywhere. People of all ages also throw firecrackers constantly, and some literally make you deaf for a little while.
That’s fireworks too; it’s just that it takes place on the Plaza de Ayuntamiento during the day, at two in the afternoon. Why, you might ask. Well, because they love noise here. Mascleta is basically a firecracker and fireworks display. It’s very loud and there’s a lot of smoke, but people are casually drinking beer and eating sunflower seeds while the world seems to be ending right next to them. Many are cheering, obviously happy about the noise and smoke; some say that you have to pay attention to the rhythm.
If I had to choose the part of Fallas that makes the least sense, I’d have a hard time deciding between the Mascleta and the Desperta. The people of Valencia (as well as us, visitors) spend the majority of the day and night walking around, partying and in many cases drinking. Why would you want to wake up at 8 in the morning? And why would anyone want to be the person waking people it? The Desperta consists of brass bands marching down the streets, playing loud music. Falleros follow them, throwing large firecrackers. I could hear them through my earplugs.
The Crema is the climax of the whole Fallas. It’s the last day to admire the fallas before they burn them (but you might be too tired and hungover for that at this point, I know I was). At ten in the evening, they burn the small fallas. Then people gather around their preferred big falla to watch the main bonfire which takes place at midnight. Some of the fallas are between buildings which need to be protected. It’s a crazy thing to watch: there are fireworks coming from right next to the falla and even from the falla itself (at least this is what it looks like). The falla is lit either after or during the fireworks; the wood, paper and wax burn very quickly. The firemen control the fire by dousing the surrounding houses (and the falla itself) with their hoses. It’s hot, pieces of fallas are flying around, and people usually move (sometimes run) away to protect themselves.
Final thoughts on Fallas
The locals, at least from what I’ve heard, see Fallas as a time to relax because there’s no school, and adults usually have the 18th and the 19th off. They hang out, party, see the fireworks and throw firecrackers. Most of all, they seem completely unfazed by the seemingly endless noise, smoke and fire. The only thing that really bothers them are the crowds.
I felt in actual danger at times, or at least like I was gonna go deaf. I was also thinking of the state in which the animals must be. If it bothers me, someone who understands what’s happening, how must they feel, considering the fact that they don’t?
Otherwise, I enjoyed every minute, even though I was tired after all the walking, partying and not sleeping. The fallas were huge and extraordinary, the falleras beautiful and the fireworks entertaining. The best part was spending time with the people I haven’t seen in months in a city as cool as Valencia. Fallas just made it even better.
5 comentarios en “Fallas: the Noisiest Festival in Europe”
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Love your article. Lived in Valencia for 18 months and I have to say my first experience of the Fallas was overwhelming. So much noise, even in my neighborhood, not just the main square. I used to work from an office off the main square and I have to say that the first year, I saw and heard the mascleta every single day, from the office balcony or down with the crowd. Whoawww…
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Thank you so much! I agree with you. The mascleta makes no sense and really is too loud. I love it that everyone seems to be having so much fun for Fallas, though. The atmosphere is great. How did you find living in Valencia otherwise? 🙂 I lived there for 3 months, and I’ll probably live there again at some point.
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