Las Fallas, one of Spain’s best festivals, has immense sculptures; comical, erotic, religious, all dazzling. It is wild and noisy. Zach describes this fantasy fest in four parts.
By Zach Frolich
Fallas are approaching in Valencia. From March 15th through the 19th, the streets of Valencia are transformed into a giant art exhibit, public fair, and hand-fireworks battle zone, culminating in nighttime fireworks shows and “La nit de la cremà,” the night of the burning, when the fallas are all consumed in flames.
The falla pictured above was called Falla Convento-Jerusalén. The price-tag of this falla: 300,000 euros! It won 1st prize in 2010 with its theme of “Rumbo al Paraiso”, or “Towards Paradise,” and was designed by artist Paco López Albert to represent the four seasons of the year.
If you’re planning to be at Las Fallas this year you’ll need to know this important vocabulary to make the most of the festival.
Fallas dictionary of terms:
• Falla: The festival Fallas is named for the large papier-mâché art statues called a falla, a Valencian word whose Latin roots link back to fire. These art displays originated as piles of old furniture that were set out on the streets and burned as part of spring cleaning. They have evolved a lot since those modest 19th-century bonfires.
• Ninot: – Valencian word for each papier-mâché puppet or figurine. A large falla might contain hundreds of ninots. They will all be burned on March 19th except for one ninot from the 1st-place falla, which is saved and placed in the Fallas museum.
• Fallero/fallera: – The people who make it all happen. You will see them in tents nearby the fallas celebrating with their families and neighborhood friends, and parading through the streets in traditional attire on their way to the Virgin Mary with their flower ofrenda (offering). There are two young women, falleras, chosen each year to be the main representatives for each casal faller (neighborhood committee): a young girl about 8 years old who is the fallera infantil, and another around 20-30 years old who is the fallera mayor.
• Casal faller: – Local neighborhood committee of falleros who spend the entire year preparing their street’s falla. There are hundreds of these casals, each with their own independent falla and neighborhood festivities
• Mascletà: This is what I’ve taken to explaining as a sound fireworks show, since it is more about the noise it makes than lighting up the sky (Indeed, they are usually done during the day). The city puts on an official mascletà once a day during the festivities, but each casal faller will also have a neighborhood one at least once during the week of the Fallas festival.
• Petardo: – Spanish word for hand-fireworks, and you will be hearing a ton of them throughout the week. It is not uncommon to see groups of kids in plazas setting them off. Masclets are the very, very loud ones, which resemble (in sound) a bomb going off and can set off car alarms and wake the whole neighborhood.
• Traca: – Strings of fireworks where you set off one and it triggers a series of small snapping fireworks. On la nit de la cremà (the night when all the fallas burn), the burning of most fallas will be initiated by a traca string of fireworks.
• Castillo: – Though it literally means “castle” in Spanish, this is also the word for a fireworks show in the sky. There is at least one official castillo each night the week of Fallas, normally around midnight displayed over the river. Again, each casal will have its own castillo in its neighborhood, usually on the last night.
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