Polo Beach Club, Wailea
Celebration of Fire
Are you the type of person who falls asleep at Fourth of July fireworks celebrations? The type of person who yearns for just a little more “oomph” in your pyrotechnics? Then the Las Fallas festival in Valencia, pain is your kind of celebration.
Beginning on March 15 and culminating with huge bonfires on March 19, Las Fallas, or “the fires” is exactly what the name implies - a celebration of fire. For six months leading up to Las Fallas, “ninots,” huge cardboard wood and plaster statues, are constructed by community organizations. They depict people and scenes from current events (sometimes resembling local politicians), and can stand several stories high.
Hundreds of these ninots are constructed and placed around the city until March 19, which is the day called “La Crema.” On this day holes are made in the ninots, which are then stuffed with fireworks. Crowds gathered around then begin to chant, streetlights are turned off and at exactly midnight all the ninots are set ablaze. All the ninots, that is, except one, which has been chosen popular vote to be taken to the local Museum of the Ninot to be exhibited along with winners from previous Las Fallas celebrations
No one’s really sure how it got started, but most believe it harkens back to the days of the Pagans, who celebrated the end of winter and the beginning of Spring and the planting season. It is known that that in sixteenth century Valencia streetlights were used only during the long winter nights. The street lamps then were hung on wooden posts, called parots, and as the days became longer and the streetlights were no longer lit, the parots were rendered useless and ceremoniously burned on St. Joseph's Day.
Some believe the huge bonfires thus started as a bit of housecleaning, or, village cleaning as it were. Back then the carpenter’s guild used tall sticks with various rags soaked in tar to make candelabra, if you will. They then became the streetlights. And, when they became no longer needed and were burned, the townspeople began adding unnecessary items from their own households (apparently they weren’t into recycling back then).
So, how did the burning sticks, rags and people’s discards take on the current-day Las Fallas celebration of the ninots resembling people and scenes?
Quite simply, many of the discards were people’s clothing, so the creative among them began dressing the sticks with the clothing, assigning them characteristics of politicians and other characters in the community (many of them corrupt). And so…a festival was born.
What’s it like to attend Las Fallas? I admit, the first one I attended was a little frightening. I mean, everything’s on fire. But, the firefighters there make sure the festival fires don’t get out of hand. So, after my third Las Fallas (yes, I’ve been back a couple of times), I actually find it an exhilarating experience, a cleansing so to speak. I sometimes just imagine it as an “out with the old, in with the new” sort of thing, much like firecrackers on New Years. Only bigger. Much, much bigger. With a lot more oomph.
If you’re looking for an experience like no other, I truly recommend Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain. You won’t regret it, I’m sure of that.
This article was posted on April 15, 2006