Las Fallas - The Torches

A Festival of Fire

Every year, in the city of Valencia, there is a very important festival called las Fallas (the Torches).  In Valencian, it is written Falles.  It is a celebration in honour of San José (Saint Joseph).

At the end of February, there is an official ceremony to announce the forthcoming festival.  This announcement is called la Crida. 

The springtime festival of Fallas begins on 1st March and lasts for 19 days!  At 2pm on 1st March, the festival begins in the main square -
la Plaza del Ayuntamiento -  with the use of firecrackers (petardos) known as mascletàs.  The 'Queen of las Fallas' - known as la Fallera Mayor - declares: “Senyor pirótecnic pot començar la mascletà”.  This means:  "Mr. Pyrotechnic can begin the firecracker show!" (la Mascletà)

The firecrackers continue to be ignited every day at 2pm until 19th. March.  They are extremely noisy, sounding like gunfire.  In fact, they are 120 decibels!  It is said that you should open your mouth whilst listening in order to preserve you eardrums!

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The most important dates are from the 15th to the 19th March (Saint Joseph's day) - el día de San José.  These five days are also known as La Semana Fallera.

Throughout the city of Valencia, each street (or area of streets) is represented by a group of people known as una comisión fallera.   Each group has its own club house called el casal fallero

Every year, the members of the group elect two leading females: one is an adult (una fallera) and one is a child (una fallera infantil).  After a voting system involving all the leading falleras from all the groups throughout the city, one fallera will win the important role of adult queen of the whole festival of Valencia and she will be known as la Fallera Mayor.  Another will be elected as the child queen of the whole festival and she will be known as la Fallera Mayor Infantil.   They will become famous in the city and will carry out many duties together.  Their role will last for a year.  They will each have a court of twelve falleras who will be their ladies-in-waiting.   The two royal courts are called el Corte de Honor and el Corte de Honor Infantil.

The members of each comisión spend the year fund-raising, planning and creating a monument for their group.   The monument portrays characters and figures of people and animals.  The structures are made from lightweight material such as paper, cardboard, soft cork, polystyrene and glue.  Each character is called un ninot, meaning 'a puppet' or 'a doll'.  

At the end of the festival, the ninots are positioned on their decorative base filled with firecrackers. The whole construction (base + ninots) is a highly flammable 'torch' called una falla or un monumento fallero.

Each falla must be positioned by dawn on 16th March.  The people work very hard during the night of 15th March and the early hours of 16th March to position their ninots like monuments in the streets.  The important moment of positioning the monuments is called la Plantà. 

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There are hundreds of fallas displayed in the streets all over Valencia.  They are beautifully painted and decorated.  They are works of art!

Prior to the official positioning in the streets, the ninots are displayed in an exhibition called la Exposición del Ninot.  The exhibition takes place in el Museo de las Ciencias, a museum in the area of Valencia known as la Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències - the City of Arts and Sciences.   Visitors vote for their favourite exhibit.   On the 16th March, the winners are announced.  There are prizes for different categories and there is one top prize. 

What is the top prize? -  It is to be chosen as el ninot indultat - the 'pardoned' one that will be saved from the fire and placed in a special museum called el Museo Fallero.  There are two categories for the top prize: one for the adults and one for the children because each comisión arranges for their child members to create un ninot too!  These are called los ninots infantiles and the children's 'pardoned' one is el ninot infantil indultat.  In the museum, you can see the saved ninots since 1934 and old posters advertising Fallas.

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On the 17th March there is a procession towards the Town Hall Square- la Plaza del Ayuntamiento where the prizes are awarded.  This is called la entrega de premios.  During this procession you will see las falleras who are representing their groups at the awards ceremony.

In the picture below, you can see some falleras wearing traditional costume - el traje tradicional valenciano.  They also wear a special sash to identify their comisión.

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In addition to the noisy mascletàs, there are fireworks throughout the festival!  Starting on 5th March, there are firework displays from midnight, every night.  The most impressive display takes place in the early hours of 18th March and it is called la Nit del Foc - the Night of Fire.

On the final night of the festivities (the 19th March) each 'monument' is set alight. The works of art are turned into torches of fire.  The act of burning the monuments is called la Cremà

Firefighters - los bomberos - are always involved in the event to keep the people safe as it is so dangerous! 

No wonder the festival is named Las Fallas - meaning 'the torches!'  The whole city is filled with bonfires in the streets!

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Each falla is accompanied by another smaller one for the children.  These are called las fallas infantiles.  

On the night of the burning - la Cremà, the children's fallas are burnt first (commencing at 8pm).  The others are burnt at 10pm.

The main falla of the city is burnt last of all at 11pm in front of the Town Hall in la Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

 

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Interesting Facts:
 
1.  Las Fallas ends on St. Joseph's Day - 19th. March - which is also Father's Day in Spain - el Día del Padre.   St. Joseph was the foster father of Jesus therefore he is considered to represent good fathers.

2.   St. Joseph was a carpenter and is known as the protector of carpenters.  There is a belief that the Fallas festival originates from the tradition of Valencian carpenters burning their unwanted pieces of wood prior to the feast day of St. Joseph.  Gradually, the custom developed so that local people would throw extra pieces of rubbish (such as rags) onto the piles of unwanted wood to be burned.  They saw that they could make amusing shapes with the collection of wood and rags and this further developed into the great, creative festival that takes place nowadays!

3.  In 2016, the festival of las Fallas received the special UNESCO status of Patrimonio Inmaterial de la Humanidad - Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.