In the last blog we introduced Fallas and the craziness of this festival and its firecrackers. One odd thing about fireworks is that in Rio we always thought fireworks were going off when we heard loud bangs. We later realised that they were gunshots. Now in Valencia, my initial reaction thinks they are gunshots, but I have to retune my mind to recognise them as fireworks. The reversal of our #RioLife.
In this post we will be exploring the many other elements of this festival, which is about so much more than fireworks!
The origins of the festival
The festival originally started as a way to celebrate the spring equinox. Carpenters used wooden planks to hold candles during the winter, so that they could see better at night. With the coming of spring, these carpenters no longer needed the planks so they burnt them. People also saw this as an opportunity to burn unwanted wooden items from their houses, such as broken chairs etc. As Christianity took hold, the festival became associated with Saint Joseph - the Patron Saint of Carpenters - although there is no actual religious connotation to the festival itself. Fallas continued to evolve into what we have today, which as mentioned before, is utter madness.
To pay homage to the origins of the festival, hundreds of models made of wood, paper, and polystyrene, are made throughout the city. They are designed and built by the different neighbourhood communities (approx. 400) and often designed based on a theme, 2018's theme being balance. They can also be pretty political, and we saw so many that included caricatures of Trump, Kim Jong Un and Putin, and one that was making some kind of statement about Brexit (although we don't know what it said because it was written in Valencian!)
Every couple of streets belongs to a different community group and they all donate throughout the year to build these structures. They take this all very seriously, as each year there is a competition to find the best ones. There are many different categories but there are about seven or eight that compete for the top prize each year, and these are truly spectacular, standing tens of metres tall with hundreds of different elements making up the scene.
During the festival, many streets close and food stalls and beer halls spring up everywhere. Beyond the gunpowder smell, there is one of beer, chocolate and sweat from all the dancing. The atmosphere is intoxicating, and you can't help but feel something special in the air.
|This was Katie's favourite falla|
Translated as the offering, this is the only religious element of the festival. Men and women from the different communities wear traditional clothes and march towards the centre of town, playing live music. They make an offering to the huge statue of Jesus' mum by adding flowers to decorate her dress. This lasts for a few days, with as many as 10,000 women contributing the bouquets. It's a magnificent spectical, as the dresses are beautiful and many of the people involved are moved to tears by the occasion.
|La Ofrenda - thousands of bouquets of flowers were added to the structure.|
Another element of the festival are the magnificent light displays, which are set up in several streets around the city and which flash in time with music. These trippy displays are phenomenal and captivate a part of my brain in an addictive way. I went to them all, multiple times, and captured them in 360. I have a project in mind that I'll get round to in the latter part of this year so stay tuned!
But none of what we have already mentioned comes even close to the craziness of the final night of the festival...
At midnight on this final night, all across the city, they BURN DOWN ALL THE FALLAS!
That's over 300 giant statues in a city of less than a million people, which all go up in flames. They call it La Crema - the cremation! Music, fireworks, screams, fire, and a hell of a lot of air pollution flood the city and you are overcome. It is nothing short of mental. We were caught up in a scary one that involved a mass evacuation as the wind turned, blowing thick black smoke full of burning ash into the crowd. Melted plastic has now permanently decorated my bag but luckily neither of our faces or eyes. Additional PPE will be required for next year!!
The whole festival is more than a little strange, as the city grinds to a halt during these days and is descended upon by tourists. One thing I find shocking is how unknown this festival is in Britain. It is nowhere near as famous as it should be, considering the scale and beauty of all the displays.
The food, dancing, gigantic models, FIRE, and culture on display is something to behold and no wonder it is a UNESCO heritage event. It's the scale of the event that is difficult to get across in a blog. A carnival, manic atmosphere descends on the city and usual norms go out the window. It's The Purge of loud noises and fireworks. It truly is one of the most phenomenal festivals I have ever seen.
Fallas is a truly unique festival. Words, 360 videos, smileys, and memes cannot do it justice. This is up there with any carnival in the world. I highly recommend planning to come in 2019 because it really is that good.
I compared it to Rio Carnaval in the last post but it's an apt comparison. I went to the one in Rio two years running and was amazed at the energy in the city. But I think the bizarreness of Fallas actually outdoes Carnaval's free love, more party-ish atmosphere.
If you're single, go to Rio and have a lot of fun. If you're not, come to Fallas, eat sweet things, and be blown away by the craziness.
|This shows one mid-construction. We saw this one burn, and it was oddly moving.|
|Game of Thrones!|
|La Ofrenda was beautiful and wasn't set on fire!|
|One of the many street parties happening throughout the week|
|There were paella cook-offs in the street, although we were warned this was more about having fun |
and drinking than actually making something that tasted nice!
|The aforementioned light displays|