*Due to COVID-19, Fallas 2020 was cancelled and the 2021 celebration was delayed and was a toned-down version of its normal festivities. Hopefully in 2022, Valencia will be able to celebrate Fallas again, although modifications to the programming are unknown at this time.
Before living in Valencia, I had never heard of Fallas, a huge festival in Spain’s third largest city. The city itself is certainly not well-known, although it’s a beautiful destination right on the Mediterranean with history, museums, and of course beaches. In March every year, the city transforms for Fallas. While the nonstop five-day fiesta doesn’t start until March 15, celebrations get underway starting in late February. This festival was a highlight of our year in Spain, and is definitely worth making the effort to experience at least once in your life.
What are Fallas?
The name of this festival came from the hundreds of statues – called fallas – that are placed at different intersections and plazas throughout the city. These statues are made of wood, papier-mache, and foam and range in size from smaller (10 feet high) to designated especial that can reach several stories in height. Fallas are sponsored by neighborhood social groups, called fallers that raise money all year for their contribution. While these structures are now elaborate and often include political or cultural references, the origin goes back to the middle ages. During the winter, tradesman like carpenters used a slab of wood to hold candles so they could work later in the day. When spring came, they burned this wood in celebration that they didn’t need it anymore. Over time, the slab of wood became figures and then statues. And in this transition, they did not abandon the celebratory burning of the statues. The culmination of Fallas is la crema, when the whole city turns out to watch these beautiful temporary pieces of art burn to the ground on March 19.
Fireworks, Fireworks, and More Fireworks
I thought I had experienced fireworks before living in Valencia, but the pirotécnicos in this region bring a whole new level of firepower in their nighttime fireworks castillos and daytime fireworks spectacle called a mascletá. Every day from March 1 through March 19th at 2 pm in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square), a different pyrotechnic company has the opportunity to show how they can generate rhythm with as much noise and smoke as possible in approximately 5 minutes. No description could possibly capture these events, so check out the video below, where you can see just part of one of the mascletás of 2019.
In addition to the daily mascletá, during the heart of Fallas, there are nightly fireworks either in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento or from the Turia River Park. That’s right…. five days of back to back nights of fireworks! These displays last 20 to 30 minutes and because of the proximity, seem larger than any other fireworks I’ve ever seen. They also start later than the average fireworks show. The first few nights, they start at midnight, but eventually by the last night, they begin at 1:30 am.
Fireworks aren’t only left to the professionals during Fallas. Shops selling all sorts of fireworks for everyone pop up around the city. They have a buyers’ guide for which fireworks are appropriate for which ages, and there are even fireworks areas set up throughout the streets to give people a safe(ish) place to set off their fireworks. Throughout the days and nights, wherever you go you will hear and see these fireworks being set off. People who are mindful of this and stay observant can enjoy the atmosphere of this pyromania while staying safe.
Fallers & The Virgin of the Forsaken
The fallers around the city aren’t just responsible for providing the fallas to the city. They are also part of a tradition regarding the local Virgen de los Desamparados (Virgin of the Forsaken). On March 17th and 18th, there are eight-hour long processions through the streets. The members of different fallers dressed in traditional clothing make their way through the streets to the Plaza de la Virgen where they make an offering of flowers. In addition to huge flower arrangements, they bring bouquets which are used to create a design on the cape of the Virgin, which is kept secret until it is gradually revealed over the course of the two days.
Fallas is Incredible… and Incredibly Exhausting
Fallas truly is an incredible festival and was recognized on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. I cannot wait to get back to Valencia to celebrate Fallas again. We loved the atmosphere, walking the city to check out all of the fallas, the neighborhood lights and food stalls, the fireworks… but it was A LOT, and it seemed to never stop. Fallas isn’t for for everyone. The city swells to twice its usual population and the streets are crowded until the wee hours of the morning. Bandstands are set up in several spots throughout the city and play music until four in the morning. Fireworks go all day and night. Visitors need to be able to go with the flow and have some flexibility about their daily schedule. So, if you are considering a trip to Valencia for Fallas with your family it’s important to consider family member personalities and physical capabilities before planning the trip. If you do choose to participate in Fallas, I’m sure it will be an experience you won’t forget!
Having spent a year living in Valencia, and about six months traveling through Spain over the last twenty years, I find Spain to be a tremendous destination for families, couples, and single travelers. I would love to help you plan your next trip to Spain and offer personalized itinerary planning services that will ensure that you have a great vacation. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408)533-0080 to find out how I can provide individualized travel services for your dream trip to Spain during Fallas or any time of year.