Cultural Celebrations in Spain: My Recount of Las Fallas

I’d heard of this Las Fallas celebration prior to arriving in Spain, seeing as all my Spanish friends deemed it a must, and it came highly recommended. Some research to understand its significance and aid my planning gave me some useful information as follows:

Las Fallas is an annual festival that takes place in Valencia, typically with its major dates from March 15 to 19. It is a celebration of the arrival of spring and honors St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Large, colorful sculptures, known as ninots, are made of paper-mâché and cardboard and placed in the streets of the city. The sculptures, both the smaller, children fallas and the larger fallas, are often satirical and depict current events and popular culture. On the final night of the festival, La Cremà begins where all but one of the ninots are burned in a spectacular show of fireworks and flames. The untouched ninot (known as ninot indultat) is then kept in the Fallas Museum alongside previous years’ winners.

Having the above information in my arsenal, I began planning a Las Fallas trip with my friends; we would leave for Valencia on Friday and spend the whole weekend celebrating till the final day, Sunday, on which we would leave back to Barcelona. Seemed like a foolproof plan, get the tickets and accommodation, and good to go…except it wasn’t. Everything was booked out or overpriced, we searched high and low, but there was no way we were going to Valencia on a student’s budget

Tip 1: Start your trip planning early! Even if you have an unlimited budget, that may not matter cause stuff may be sold out, so plan early!

We had to give up some things if we wanted to have even a taste of Las Fallas, so we were able to find a trip planned by a Barcelona trip organization that would have us in Valencia for the ultimate day rather than a weekend trip that we originally planned. We would be paying a reasonable amount for a trip that was 3 weeks away, the arrival and departure times were long and accommodating so we would be able to get the full spectacle of the festival.

Tip 2: For a fair price, there’re companies that plan trips all over Catalunya and Spain to nice locations, celebrations, and sights that are worth seeing. The company I used was Erasmus Barcelona(https://erasmusbarcelona.com), but I know there’s also Barcelona Trips(https://www.barcelona-trips.com).

From the second we stepped into the city, the loud, reverberating sounds of fireworks and firecrackers could be heard throughout the city. A city typically having a population of almost 800,000 people, the human count goes up to 3 million during the celebration period, so there were people in almost every nook and cranny, riding bicycles in the park, taking videos of the scenery to capture the intensity of explosions in midday. I couldn’t see any smoke in the bright sky, so had to rely on my hearing to move closer to the city center where celebrations were happening and that’s when I saw the first sculpture, a child ninot not much taller than I am, but my gosh was it beautiful. I got as close to it as the barriers would allow, yet they looked as beautifully and intricately painted up close and personal as they did from a distance. From when I got to the first sculpture, the city instantly became a maze of scattered ninots. Many streets were blocked off from vehicles, with almost every street or intersection adorned with. a completely different ninot from the last. For hours on end, my friends and I explored the city, futilely trying to translate and make sense of the placards with write-ups in Valencian meant to give context to the sculptures. I remember unintentionally walking into a street just to find many people had come to a standstill in preparation for something, and so like any curious person would, I waited with them, and I waited some more and when I was discouraged from the waiting and about to leave, I sucked it up and decided to stay where I was, and then I heard the first screech of a cracker. Then another, and another, and the bangs began and fireworks at 3pm in the afternoon, and it went on continuously till the air was filled with smoke and I was halfway to deafness. It was unnecessarily loud and obnoxious, ineffective at making a beautiful spectacle in the sky, but it did a great job at energizing the crowds and multiplying whatever feeling of celebration we already had.

Honestly, the whole theme of long wait times continued throughout the days, the preparations would take a while and the burnings which were supposed to begin at 8pm began 45 minutes after. So the plan is that all the children ninots get burnt first, then the bigger ones at 10pm, and then at 11pm the sculpture at Plaza del Ayuntamiento is burned, but like I said, reduce your expectations that things will be on time, and just stay along for the ride and the spectacle which is more than worth it. The sculptures aren’t burnt one after the other, but rather simultaneously and so if visiting, I’d advise looking for the nearest ninot in the category meant to be burning at that time and watching it, as saddening as it is to see the beautiful, costly figures get reduced to ashes, I have to say there was just as much beauty in their destruction as there was during their existence.

Tip 3: If you want to see any ninot in particular getting burnt, get there ahead of time and get a spot. The bigger the pieces, the more spectators so the harder it is to get good visibility of the burning. I went to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento burning at 11pm, and boy was that the most stupid decision, my view of the fireworks was nonexistent seeing as the only space I could squeeze into was well obstructed by a local supermercad.

It’s a whole day’s worth of laughing, walking, celebrating, and spectacle, and I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but it is so worth it. Go with a pair of comfortable, walking shoes you don’t mind getting dirty because there’re feet everywhere, in fact, if I remember correctly, my friends and I averaged about 25K steps just that day, so this single-day trip can double as a daily workout. 

All blog posts I read regarding this event deemed it as a celebration that everyone should experience at least once in their life, and just like that, this blog post now endorses that message. I saw these beautiful sculptures and on some whim, thought that the sculptures wouldn’t be destroyed, but boy I couldn’t believe the destruction I beheld, and just how fun it could be to watch pretty things burn. If you have an opportunity to visit Spain, study abroad or not, and it’s Las Fallas season, I promise you, visit Valencia, experience this phenomenon and tell others about it. 

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