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Valencia’s Las Fallas: A Fire in the Night

The Spanish city Valencia builds hundreds of huge, whimsical statues each March for its Las Fallas festival—then torches all but one in a single night.

 

I probably never would have heard of the Las Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain, if it hadn’t been for a family friend from England who had studied there. When he found out that my husband, daughter and I were planning to visit Barcelona, he said we absolutely had to plan our trip around the time of Las Fallas and include it in our itinerary because it was an unbelievable experience. He was right.

What is Las Fallas?

The Las Fallas Festival, which takes place every March, dates back hundreds of years. It supposedly originated with a grand feast that the carpenters of Valencia would hold in honor of their patron saint, Saint Joseph, on March 19. At the center of the festival are the fallas: elaborately painted sculptures made of wood, papier-mâché and even polyurethane, standing anywhere from six feet to more than nine stories tall.

Typically, each neighborhood in Valencia erects a large falla mayor for adults and a smaller falla infantil for the children in their main intersection. The fallas are installed during La Planta on March 15, after which they are judged in various categories, the largest and most prestigious being the Sección Especial. On the night of the feast of St. Joseph (March 19), all of the fallas are burned during the exciting Nit de Foc, or Night of Fire. In addition to the fallas sculptures, each neighborhood also elects a Fallera Mayor (or Fallas Queen) and a Fallera Infantil (the children's equivalent) to represent their area of Valencia. These falleras, along with their court, spend the festival dressed in elaborate, 18th century-style dresses typical of their area of Valencia.

An event for the entire family

For adults, the Las Fallas festival is an amazing experience, but for children, it can be truly magical. Every street offers a new experience; be it fallas sculptures that seemingly appear out of nowhere, a procession of falleros on their way to another ceremony or an impromptu mascletà (an earsplitting loud fireworks display). My daughter, who was 3-1/2 years old at the time, spent three days looking on in sheer awe as we passed numerous “parades” of falleras and brass bands, complete with banners flapping in the wind.

She would squeal with glee at the very sight of a Fallera Mayor, and I had to keep a firm grip on her hand to prevent her from running away so she could talk to one of the “princesses.” Even though she was mostly met with blank stares from these costumed girls, a few of the older ones who knew English smiled and laughed at my daughter’s gushing and even posed for pictures with her.

The fallas themselves are also quite amazing for children. With their cartoonish looks and massive statures it is almost as if children’s book illustrations have come to life. To this day, whenever my daughter sees a float, sculpture or, really, an oversized version of anything, she says, “Look, mommy, it’s a fallas!”

What to See

  • The Fallas. With more than 300 fallas erected throughout the city, you won’t be able to see them all, but you can get a map to find the largest ones. The best time for a close look is in the early morning, when the city is still recovering from the previous night’s festivities. After dark, though, is when they are the most beautiful.
  • The Mascletà in the Plaça de l'Ajuntament (daily). A coordinated display of firecrackers and fireworks that takes place everyday during the festival at 2 p.m.
  • The Ofrenda (March 17-18). Over two days, thousands of falleros walk to Plaça de la Virgen to make a floral offering to Valencia’s patron saint, Our Lady of the Forsaken.
  • The Cabalgata de Fuego, or Fire Parade (March 19). As its name says, the Cabalgata de Fuego is a moving celebration of fire ceremonies from around the world.
  • The Cremà (March 19). By far, the most amazing part of the Nit de Foc. Starting at 10 p.m. on the last night of festival, the fallas are set on fire in a dramatic display of fireworks and music.

Planning Tips

Book early. Though the festival is not extremely well-known worldwide, it is hugely popular in Spain, and hotels in Valencia are often booked months in advance. Be sure to plan well ahead of time if you want to attend. 

Prepare the kids for noise and smoke. While the daily mascletà and the Nit de Foc are must-see events, not all children may enjoy them. To say the mascletàs are loud is an understatement, and some children may be scared by the loud displays. This also can be said for the Cremà. The fires are amazing to see, but they are extremely intense and the smoke can be quite thick. Make sure you buy one of the souvenir bandanas for sale throughout the city, as they are a great way to cover your face during the night.

Carry snacks. Lastly, because this is a citywide event, it can be very difficult to find anything in the way of food until late at night. Spanish culture typically calls for late meals anyway, but during Las Fallas, even the restaurant owners are too busy with the festivities to be open for much of anything beyond dinner, which isn't served until 9 p.m. or later. Keep snacks with you to help you get through the day.

For a complete guide to the Las Fallas Festival, visit www.valenciavalencia.com.


Destinations: Valencia, Spain

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Arts and Entertainment


User Comments

Maybe someday... What am amazing festival! I'm adding it to my travel wish list.

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