Fallas 2023

Valencia’s Fallas Festival is an annual World Heritage recognized event. It runs from March 15th to March 19th. (It kicks off on March 1st. There is a lot of preliminary activity, but a lot of it involves locals.) Fallas is held to celebrate St. Joseph. It has pageantry, marching bands, giant groupings of statues (ninots), loud fireworks displays (mascletas), cheek to jowl crowds, random explosions, floral offerings to Virgin Mary, helicopters overhead, spring break revelry, burning statues (La Crema), and more explosions. Locals and expats alike either love it, or head out of town with their dogs.

It is possible to customize your Fallas experience. The big mascleta occurs at 2 PM in Plaza de Ayuntamiento. The focus isn’t a visual display. It’s about rhythmic ground shaking, chest thumping explosions. If you enjoy being compressed by teeming crowds and want to feel the full effects of a mascleta, the Plaza is where you want to be. You can hear the mascleta all over town though. Three blocks away at the back of the crowd is good enough for me. Sitting on our balcony a kilometer away with a book and a glass of wine is Donna’s preference. Renting one of the hotel rooms overlooking Plaza de Ayuntamiento is an option if you book in advance.

There are over 700 ninot displays erected in Valencia during Fallas. Regional towns have displays (and mascletas) as well. The displays are in place by March 15th. They are judged on the 16th. An aimless walking tour of Valencia’s historic center and its outskirts is all that’s needed to find ninots. They are beautiful, usually satirical, and sometimes ribald. They are built to burn.

The origin of the word ‘Fallas’ is ‘torch’. It came to mean ‘bonfire’, a Spring ritual burning, and then Valencia’s major festival. On March 19th the ninots are torched. There is a schedule, but burning three-story sculptural assemblages requires fire trucks and bomberos. There are over 700 assemblages to burn. La Crema is supposed to start at 10 PM. The big event in Plaza de Ayuntamiento is scheduled for 11:30 PM. That might happen. Be prepared to wait. The people are friendly, and the atmosphere is festive.

I chose to watch the ninot in Plaza Santa Ursula go up in flames. It’s 200 meters from our apartment. I watched it being constructed. Watching it burn would complete the cycle. Donna chose to walk back to the apartment and skip the burning.

The burnings are a point of contention. Most ninots are made out of polystyrene. Saving the planet is a frequent theme. Spewing toxic black smoke into the atmosphere isn’t environmentally friendly.

Efforts to address this glaring inconsistency have been made. There are prizes for ‘sustainable’ ninots made out of organic materials. I saw women stuffing explosives into paper mache heads. Watching that display go up in gray and white smoke could have been interesting. There are choices.

Marching bands and pageantry are nearly constant features of Fallas. Every neighborhood elects royalty. They are followed by their court and a band whenever they are out and about. Our apartment is on one of the roads leading to Plaza de la Virgin. That’s where a three-story Virgin Mary is constructed. She starts out as bare scaffolding. A two day parade of costumed participants dress TheVirgin in a flower cloak. She is not burned. She is deconstructed.

From our perch above one parade route we determined the marching bands know the same three songs. They play them on the way to the plaza, and they play them on the way back. Every night after the last band passes there are fireworks. Our bedroom is above a dead end street. It’s a great place to toss M-80s. At 4:30 AM the last round of explosions stops. Happy drunks start wandering down the street singing. At 9:00 AM the first M-80 goes off. You either love Fallas, or you leave town. In 2024 a coin will be flipped. I’d sure like to see what happens when paper mache heads stuffed with gunpowder catch fire.

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