I stepped off the bus and immediately felt like I was in a battle zone. The long whistles and accompanying roars of firecrackers came from all directions, and the air was already smokey. And this was only 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
Thus began our day in Valencia to see the closing festivities of Las Fallas, a festival filled with fireworks, firecrackers, sparklers, explosives and combustibles galor, all building up to the grand bonfires that unforgivingly take down the massive fallas art pieces constructed for the event. A pyro’s dream to say the least.
The Fallas holiday is celebrated in Spain in commemoration of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. While there are different theories about the exact origins of the festival, one of my Spanish friends explained it to me as starting back when carpenters needed extra structures to hold their candles when the sun went down. As the days got longer (in March as it was), the carpenters would burn these planks. Over time the ceremonious burnings evolved – the carpenters would burn their pieces together and children started dressing them up beforehand. Today, immense constructions of satirical caricatures and scenes are built of cardboard and paper-mache to make political commentaries. The current Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy and the Duchess of Alba were a few of the targets this year.
After experiencing some authentic paella (invented in Valencia) and agua de Valencia (not exactly “agua”), we stumbled upon the most unbelievable parade I’ve ever seen. As in, I’m not entirely sure it’d meet certain safety standards in the U.S. All the same, it was pure adrenaline. Dancing to drums and bagpipes, people dressed in devils’ costumes skipped down the streets with huge sparklers twirling in hand, and others ran about sprinkling flammable substances on the ground and setting them ablaze. The craziest thing of all was that this was an inherently family event, yet not one child seemed phased. I, on the other hand, jumped nearly every time a kid threw a popper in my direction.
Eventually midnight rolled around and it was finally time for the much-anticipated Crema, or burning of the fallas. I have to say, despite the sadness you feel after becoming attached to a particular falla and then seeing it go up in flames, there is a particular beauty to the burning in and of itself. Firecrackers are first attached and set off on various parts of the piece and then while the flames engulf the large beauty, you see her unravel and collapse piece by piece. And, while the heat of the flames take you aback and in the back of your mind you’re hoping to god that the firefighters in the corner know what they’re doing, it is one of the craziest nights and most incredible sights to witness in Spain.
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