Monday, March 21, 2011

Las Fallas

Las Fallas (fie-yas) is a tradition in the Valencian region of Spain, is one of the biggest festivals of the year and takes place in the weeks leading up to St. Joseph´s Day on March 19.

Fallas (Falles in Valencian) began as a festival celebrated by the local artisans in honor of St. Joseph. In the Valencian Community this festival dates back to the mid-1700´s, when it was just a small part of the general St. Joseph´s Day celebrations. At daybreak on March 18th small straw stages appeared in the streets on which one 1 or 2 doll-like figures were displayed depicting in a satirical way, some local event, misconduct or town personality. During the course of the day, the local children collected as much combustible material as they could find and constructed large trash heaps which they called fallas. At dusk, on the eve of St. Joseph´s Day these fallas were set on fire as the town people gathered to watch them burn.

The Fallas in Dénia started in the early 1900´s when a group of locals would make a fabric figure filled with seaweed, they they named ¨Tio Pep¨ (Uncle Joe). On St. Joseph´s Day they paraded this figure around town and eventually set it on fire atop a mountain of old furniture and other household trash that would easily burn. As the years passed, more groups became involved, each creating their own figures. The special characteristic of these satirical fallas is that they are intended to portray a criticism of social policy. They choose a specific topic and give it either a satirical or humorous twist, representing scenes alluding to personalities, events or political actions which the falleros (members of the fallas groups) consider worthy to be made fun of.

Today, Fallas in Dénia has evolved into many groups working all year to raise money and commission the building of their individual fallas, which can run in excess of 80,000 euro. These groups are very large and the members consist of all ages. For the children, special fallas are commissioned by the groups. These are not political or satirical, just more ¨cute¨ and cartoonish... but of course, these are also eventually burned.

The fallas themselves are extremely elaborate and very large, some are 5 and 6 stories tall. The order in which the fallas are burned is of significant importance. Each falla, both large and children´s is (independently) voted on by the main Fallas committee with the winner in each category getting burned last... usually around 3am on the 20th.

In the week leading up to March 19th, the fallas begin to take shape as they are constructed in their respective area of the city. Each day at 2 and 7pm there is a massive fireworks display. There are tons of members-only activities for the fallas groups that take place throughout the week. While walking the city streets and eating in the local restaurants you are sure to see the members in costume enjoying the entire Fallas experience. On March 17th (who´s St. Patrick?) they announce the ¨winners¨ and there is more partying.

St. Joseph´s Day and Las Fallas, starts early with a very long parade that includes all of the members (from elderly to infant) of the groups. They parade through main street carrying flowers that will be used to construct ´Our Lady of the Foresaken´ in front of the main church. The parade ends with yet another fireworks display before Siesta.

The evening is kicked off by a fireworks display and there is club like atmosphere in the streets. Instead of music, the beat is provided by children lighting firecrackers, while the parents admire the fallas, eat and drink. Street vendors sell balloons, toys and food. At around 9pm, the cremá of the fallas begins. If you aren´t sure of the order in which they will burn, just follow the crowds or a fire brigade.

Each falla is loaded with cardboard and paper, and doused with gasoline before the lights are dimmed. Fireworks (what else?) are set off around the falla and if that doesn't set it ablaze, then they just throw lit fireworks on to it. The crowd ¨oo´s and ah´s¨ as these things burn. There is cheering when it finally falls, amidst the fire fighters trying to keep the very close buildings, trees and people from also going up in flames.

The burning process is systematic and actually pretty safe considering the flames from the big ones shoot into the sky higher than most of the buildings. Even more surprising is the apparent lack of injures (or parental concern) from all of the firecrackers being constantly set off by the children... of course, we didn´t stop by the Emergency Room to view the waiting area.

For as much as we heard about Fallas beforehand and sortof knew what to expect, it was difficult to really understand this bizarre, but incredibly wild and fun festival without seeing it, so I did my best to condense my hours of Las Fallas footage into this short (4.5 min) video.

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