I timed my trip to Valencia for a chance to enjoy some nice weather in February. It was only once I arrived that my Airbnb host asked if I was coming for the festival. I had no idea she was talking about, but I certainly found out.
What is Las Fallas?
The origins of the Las Fallas festival date back centuries, with the first written records of the festival showing up in the mid-18th century. The festival began as a celebration for the coming of spring. Carpenters would use pieces of wood to hold up lights in the winter and with the spring equinox bringing later hours of sunlight, that practice became unnecessary. Every year, to celebrate spring, carpenters would dispose of winter wood in large bonfires. Over time, people added other objects and rags to the bonfires and started designing the pyres to look like people. Popular constructions have since moved from wood and cardboard to paper maiche, wax, foam, and other materials.
They're called ninots, which means puppets or dolls in Valencian, and they're meant to be satirical depictions of people and fictional characters found in popular culture. Some of the more elaborate ninots and scenes were constructed over the week prior to the main event and surely in workshops for months before that. They are colorful, fun, incredibly detailed, and celebrations of each neighborhood around the city.
What goes on during Las Fallas?
The festival consists of fireworks, the burning of these creations, parades, bands and costumed Valencians marching through the streets, and generally a lot of merriment. There were food trucks set up everywhere offering churros and bunelos (delicious). There were concerts in plazas, and children setting off sparklers on every street corner.
They set off mascletas during the day, which are fireworks solely designed to make a lot of noise, and colorful fireworks at night.
The Final Night of the Las Fallas Festival
On the final night, they burn all the ninots. It was very cool how they put fireworks inside of the creations. I walked around the main area and followed the fireworks knowing the burning would follow. Once the fireworks were set off, the ninots would catch. What started as a small flame quickly bloomed into a massive bonfire two or three stories high. The crowd watched and cheered whenever another section of the ninot would fall to the ground.
You can see the Valencian fire department on their busiest day of the year. All of ninots were set up close to buildings, too close in my mind, to beautiful historic buildings. The fire department did a great job spraying the sides of the buildings to pre-wet them and managing the flames without detracting from the festivities. Each ninot was constructed inside a small hill of sand with a rock border. And after each ninot was thoroughly burned, the pile of ashes were drenched in water. For a festival involving massive fires in tight areas, I thought it was very well managed, allowing all the residents and tourists alike to relax and enjoy the spectacle.