Las Fallas

Melinda D. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.

Each year, from the first to nineteenth of March, the festival of Las Fallas provides the city of Valencia with a loud and smoky celebration. Two weeks ago, I traveled to the city and witnessed the beginning of the festival, and last weekend I returned to watch the climax of it all. 

 Las Fallas celebrate the arrival of spring, and beautiful large vibrant cardboard structures of characters, personalities, animals, etc, are placed around the city and burned on the last night. They are accompanied throughout the two weeks by fireworks, music, performances, ceremonies, and other festivities. The origins of the festival are debated, and the word fallas itself has many meanings. Originally meaning torch, it now refers to the works of art (often constructed as a satirical or political statement), the fires, and the entire procession. Extranjeros and Spaniards alike flock to Valencia for an unforgettable experience. 

I arrived by bus last Friday evening, the 18th, with the four other students in my group. We knew we arrived when we could hear the petardos exploding in the sky. Men and women paraded through the streets in traditional dress despite the drizzle outside. We were happy to arrive an hour earlier than scheduled and went on to navigate the Valencian bus system to drop our bags off and rest at the hotel before exploring the center of the city at night. A local acquaintance that I had met two weeks prior in Valencia led me through the route to see the beautiful structures one by one. “Es una maravilla,” repeated Santi, as he explained that the fallas are prepared all year just to go down in the Cremà. Colorful fireworks lit the sky, and the ambiente was lively, the city bustling with all sorts of people heading from one falla structure to another, taking them in before they would be burned the next night.

On Saturday, the other students and I explored different parts of Valencia by foot again. Bands marched the streets, children threw snap pops onto the ground, firecrackers sounded off, and people danced and laughed the day away, eagerly awaiting for the sun to set and the fires to begin. As the smaller structures were first burned, we went to grab something to eat before joining hundreds of others for the finale of Las Fallas in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento. And then… we waited and waited and waited. It began to rain off and on, and I, along with others, quietly worried that it would be called off. Under our umbrellas we chatted with the people around us to pass the time. Naturally, onlookers began to get rowdy, and my lower back and legs ached from standing. Eventually, we heard sirens– finally, the firefighters had arrived. 

Everyone welcomed los bomberos with cheering as they slowly drove through the crowd. Fireworks once again lit the night sky as firemen ran around and poured gasoline onto la falla. The structure itself was an impressive collection of looming Star Wars characters and vehicles, made up of painted carton taking the form of the tall storm troopers, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and more. Umbrellas began to close, the mass chanting and yelling in excitement as eyes looked up. Flames began to climb from the ground, engulfing the structure, and a large dark plume of smoke rose into the sky. We all cheered and rejoiced, consuming the visual feast.

 The entire experience was definitely worth the wait. At the end of it all, the whole concept of year-long

preparation just for the Cremà, the renewal that comes with destruction of fire, and the arrival of spring, reminded me about the time I have left in Spain. Recently, most of the students have been thinking about the approaching end of the school year, wanting to take full advantage of the few lingering weeks. Las Fallas has helped me come to terms with our upcoming departure. Now I think of my time abroad here in Spain as a beautiful falla structure. Una maravilla that, like all good things, will come to an end. The departure date is the Cremà, and I and the other students should celebrate, returning as renewed persons. 

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