Michael and I had never heard of the Fallas festival. I now know that if I ever found a book called “Top 100 festivals around the world,” Fallas would probably be in the Top 10. But Michael and I don’t care much for crowds. We’re not ones to travel for a festival that attracts hordes of people. Let alone one that also involves ear-splitting firecrackers. So that book? We would have never picked it up.
So it’s not a surprise we hadn’t heard of Fallas. Until we started looking into places to live in Spain.
But even then, we weren’t going to choose our new home based on one festival.
Because to us, a festival is how long? A weekend? Maybe a long weekend? A week at most?
Ha. Not Fallas.
When we moved here, ex-pats talked about the last Fallas they saw in March of 2020. “The country shut down in the middle of Fallas. People were crying in the streets,” our friends Michael and Kitty told us.
This seemed a little extreme to us. But we’ve traveled enough to appreciate that our way is not the only way. So we listened.
“It takes them a year to build these monuments,” we were told. “They can cost hundreds of thousands of Euros.”
Michael and I had seen them online. Four stories tall. Five. A cool thing to have in the middle of a city.
“Uh, no,” we were told. “There are hundreds of them.”
“And they all get burned on the night of the 19th.”
Now this was nonsense. People spend an entire year working on building a four story something that costs hundreds of thousands of Euros and then they BURN IT?? TO THE GROUND????!!
“And then they start all over again for the next year.”
This reminded me of the Zen Buddist monks who make intricate designs from colored sand only to blow them all away. A practice in non-attachment or something.
But lighting a four-story structure on fire was kind of the opposite of blowing a puff of air. . .
“A lot of Valencianos leave for Fallas,” we were told. This didn’t seem irrational. Some people don’t like festivals. “But you have to see it once, then decide if you’re going to stay for it next year or not.”
What’s so bad that I’d want to leave? I wondered, and then asked.
Of the million who come to the city for the festival? Well, they’re just in the city center, right?
“Uh. No. They’re everywhere. Remember there are 400 statues built around the city. Some of them are much smaller than others. . . but it’s not just the people that are loud. It’s the mascletás.”
“Firecrackers. The kind that shake your whole body.”
“They light them off every day for 19 days. At 2 pm from the Ayuntamiento.”
“The government square.”
So if I’m not there, I don’t hear them.
“Oh. Well, people light them off in the streets, too.”
You mean those popper things kids throw?
“That’s what the little kids start with. Then when you get to be 9 or 10, you get your parents to buy you the bigger ones. And you set them up to go off and scare people walking along the street. And the older you get, the bigger ones you get your parents to buy. . . ”
So these monuments were built in March of 2020 and then Spain shut down. Just a week before they were set to burn them all.
Eventually they were dismantled and brought back to the warehouses in which they were built.
And then Valencia decided it was time to bring back Fallas. So in September of 2021, the pieces came back out, were built up again, and burned.
I missed it. I had a prior commitment in Northern Spain.
But Michael saw it.
“I’m not staying here for the next one,” he told me.
Then my parents came to visit in October, 2021. They heard our friends Michael and Kitty go on and on about Fallas.
“I want to see it,” Dad said. “Don’t you want to see it, Jean?” he asked, looking at my mother.
“Nope,” she said.
And so it is that my dear father will return to Spain on March 15 (without my mother) to witness one of the craziest festivals I have ever heard of.
And he’ll love it.
Because Dad’s a volunteer firefighter back home.
“The Valencian firefighters love Fallas,” I told him. “All the buildings here are stone, so they don’t get much action. Until Fallas.”
I described how they hose down the nearby buildings when the monuments first go up in flames, then eventually turn their hoses on the monument itself.
“What the hell are these things made of?” my father asked.
“Wood and polystyrene foam,” we were told. “They say it’s non-toxic but . . . “
And so it begins. Michael and I saw a mascletá in the Ayuntamiento on Feb 27. This past Saturday we saw one on the streets of our neighborhood.
The pieces of the Fallas monuments are being brought in on trailers and unloaded with cranes.
Today some are partially built.
Dad arrives on the 15th.
I recall that the last time Dad came to Spain alone I welcomed him to Pamplona during the festival of San Fermin. (The Running of the Bulls of Hemingway fame. . . )
Perhaps we’ve started a tradition?
4 Comments Add yours
Love this post.. you captured when the festival is and all that its about. I will experience it next year as moving 3/30… and can’t wait to see/ hear feel this festival and join in!!! thanks rebecca
You’ll have to be sure and capture and share the plethora of visual expressions and verbal “Lou-isms” during his visit. One of a kind experience that we will live vicariously through your family. Enjoy!
I would LOVE to see this festival!!
This sounds SERIOUSLY like Mardi Gras on acid! I love seeing it from afar. Thanks for posting, but I think I’m with Michael…