Dispatches from the Road: Las Fallas Festival, Valencia

Dispatches from the Road, Parties, Festivals & Events, Spain — By on April 12, 2010 at 10:00 am

Lost Girl Lauren Tousignant recently spent time in Valencia during Las Fallas, one of Spain’s hottest holidays. She tasted Paella, watched parades, statue-gazed and partied her way through the streets of Valencia during the celebration. Read on to hear more about Lauren’s discoveries as she got lost in the  the old Spanish traditions of costume, music, dance, parading, and food for the week.

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By Lauren Tousignant

Once a year for one week in March the city of Valencia, Spain turns into one big party as they host their annual Las Fallas Festival. The Festival is truly one of a kind and people from all over the world come to experience its excitement.

The most unique part of the festival is the hundreds of striking statues displayed throughout the city. Different neighborhoods choose a scenario, a public figure or an event that annoys or irritates them and construct a sarcastic or satirical statue of it.

There were statues that poked fun at obnoxious tourists, one that made fun of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, even one that depicted a dysfunctional Noah’s ark with monkey carrying a drunk elephant.

My favorite was one that featured an obese man clad in a crisp, white suit, lounged in an over-sized chair, smoking a cigar surrounded by money, servants and two tall, leggy 1920′s-esque dancers. The monument was so large that no matter how far back I stood, or how I angled my camera, I still couldn’t get a full picture of it.

In addition to these larger-than-life statues, the festival offers much more.  You can count on seeing at least three parades a day which feature lively bands and the men, women and children of Valencia who proudly display their traditional costumes-beautiful, vividly colored dresses embroidered with gold thread and trimmed with lace and jewels. The women wore their hair in fancy braids with delicate headpieces. Sashes, worn across their bodies, represented their neighborhoods.

The men wore puffy white blouses, pinstripe knickers with white socks and vests made with rich colors and the same detailed embroidery as the women. Their ensembles were completed with cummerbunds. Many carry some type of patterned blanket.

There’s a fireworks display every night at 1 am and everyone gathers near the beach to watch. Once the fireworks are over, the party really begins. The further you stray from the town square, the crazier the streets become. Just about every two blocks, there is a stage set up in front of the neighborhood’s monument. Flashing lights and popular music (many were songs from Billboards top 100) flood the streets and people of all age’s cheer, toast and dance along. Children, clearly allowed to stay up past their bedtime, play with noisemakers and chase each other around the statues. Sparklers and firecrackers are set off every 100 ft, beer stands and churro tents are set up on every corner and detailed light arches hang above each festive street.

If you’re able to make it to the city center each morning at 8:30 am you’ll get to see the unveiling of the statues. There’s the “Ofrenda de las Flores,” or offering of the flowers, in which Valencian people parade in with thousands of flower bouquets to set beneath a large wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. Over the next two days, the statue is decorated, flower-by-flower. In addition there are bullfights and concerts that take place during  each day.

The week ends with “la crema,” which in this case means “the burning”.  All the statues are paraded through the streets and brought to the center of town where they’re set on fire in a spectacular finale of flames and fireworks.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to see the final burning because of travel arrangements. Every time a local asked us if we were excited for “la crema,” and we explained that we weren’t able to stay, they’d gasp and shake their heads… I think we really missed out.

Traveling to Valencia for the Las Fallas festival was one of the best experiences of my life. Everything from the people to the statues to the food (be sure to try a plate of paella) was incredible. I have every intention of someday returning to Valencia to experience the entire week of Las Fallas. In which I’ll be sure to see a bullfight and to finally witness the “la crema”.

    2 Comments

  • ginger.in.spain says:

    I was in Valencia two years ago for the Las Fallas festival and it is still one of the coolest experiences of my life. The last day is definitely worth sticking around for as every street corner displays the burning of a different statue. Each neighborhood spends a year and up to two million euro designing and constructing their entry into the festival, and on the last night (once judging has ended and a winning statue chosen), they are wrapped in strings of fireworks which are lit by the barrio’s “fallera”-essentially the beauty queen of the neighborhood-and within 10 minutes the fireworks have exploded and the entire construction is nothing but burning wood supports. It’s a truly unique and incredible experience. Generally, the main square in the city boasts one of the largest displays, which is saved to be burnt last. Everyone in Valencia gathers in this square at the end of the night to watch the biggest and last burning-the flames can reach up to 5 stories high.

    Every night is fun, with revelry lasting until the wee hours of the morning (as is custom in Spain) and streets filled with partiers drinking beer and setting of fireworks all week long. Definitely a trip worth taking!

  • I have been to your port before. The more I take in, the more I keep coming back!