By Zach Frolich
Most of the Fallas activity centers around the week of March 16th through and including the 19th for the big finale. However, there are regular events the whole first half of March, for those of you who happen to be passing through early. (Make sure to read Fallas Part I here first.)
Calendar of important events:
February 26th (last Sunday of Feb.): La despertà (“the awakening,” a collective hand-fireworks event with all the city’s falleros) at 7:30 a.m. on Calle de la Paz, and La Cridà (which means “the call”, the opening ceremonies with all the falleras mayores, followed by a fireworks show) at Torres de Serranos early evening: These two events formally open the Fallas season.
March 1–19th: Each day at 2:00 p.m., in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento, a public mascletà is held.
March 15th: La plantà, when each neighborhood assembles its falla, officially inaugurating the public viewing and street festivities.
March 16th & 17th: La ofrenda, falleros from different neighborhoods, at different times and places throughout the afternoon, parade to the Plaza de la Virgen to place their “offering” before the Virgin Mary.
March 16th, 17th, 18th: Castillos, a.k.a. fireworks shows, at midnight. The show on the 18th is the big one, called La nit del foc, or “the night of fire”.
March 19th: La nit de la cremà, or “the night of the burning”, when all the falleros across town burn their fallas. (In a later entry I’ll explain the traditional procedure and schedule.)
During Las Fallas Festival, there are almost 700 independent Casals, each enacting their own mini falla festival in their own neighborhood. In this way Fallas is a total festival for the city of Valencia because it is celebrated many hundred times over by the different neighborhoods. Las Fallas is about wandering through the city (though the highest density of activity is around the old city center), getting to know how its many different communities express themselves through their falla, while at the same time checking out their different styles of street parties.
There is a general common structure to all the fallas. Each falla will have the main display (the “falla mayor”) and a separate miniature “falla infantil” for kids. A light display with the name of the falla is strung up to guide the viewer up to it. With these basic elements in mind, the casal will pick a distinctive theme around which their falla will be designed for that year.
An important Fallas tradition is political commentary and locals incorporate playful political commentary into their falla’s design. The origin of these political taunts were neighborhood critiques. Traditionally (beginning in the 18th or 19th century or so) fallas were built out of, or on top of, trashed wooden furniture tossed out onto the streets for spring cleaning (tied to the San José saint’s day). Neighbors would make playful references to community disputes from the past year.
Today, these political commentaries center more on regional or international scandals and crises. For example, it is a rare year that passes without the U.S. president as well as EU leaders appearing. (Obama is an irresistible subject.) And there is much art and commentary to assessing a Casal’s falla. How witty or poignant is their political commentary? Do they capture some cultural Zeitgeist? Is it pretty? Is it fun?
Tour around the city of Valencia, especially its more central neighborhoods (e.g. L’Eixample, Russafa, El Carmen), as much as possible to see the hundreds of different ones, and to peak in on each casal’s street party. Some are open to outsiders, with music and food (usually for an entry fee), but most are not, though you are always encouraged to gaze at the falla. For more Falla tips, see Part 3 here.
Zach Frohlich, originally from Austin, Texas, has been traveling between Spain and the U.S. for over a decade, and settled and is living in Valencia for the last couple of years. He is a historian by training and married to a Spaniard. He shares cultural insights and background on Spain at: www.nothemingwaysspain.blogspot.com