Imagine the Rose Parade mixed with the Fourth of July, throw in a major bonfire, multiply that by 5 and you might have a slight idea of what its like to be in Valencia for the one of a kind celebration of Fallas.
Fallas, derived from the Latin word fax which means torch, is a weeklong festival celebrating all things fire. The tradition is related to the Latin custom of lighting fires to welcome spring. In Valencia a large portion of the population were carpenters and they began to burn their scraps of woodworking during these spring equinox parties. As Christianity's strong hold began to be felt in Valencia the fires were coordinated with a celebration of St, Joseph the patron saint of carpenters. Today March 19, St. Joseph's day, marks the culmination of five days of parties, parades and pyrotechnics.
Children, teens and elderly alike roam the streets lighting firecrackers that sound like mini-bombs. Neighborhoods put on daily displays of firework shows complete with bands and processions of people dressed in their Medieval finery.
All times of the night and day bangs, booms and burst can be heard all around you. The old scrap wood has given way to elaborate works of art towering high above the heads of the excited spectators as they scurry from fallera to fallera to witness the remarkable work that took nearly a year to make and will burn in less than an hour.
Every afternoon at 2pm city hall has a mescleta, a huge fireworks show, and on the last day the mescleta is on steroids. My 7 year old said it perfectly "it felt like the end of the world!" The experience was unreal. For a few minutes the sky filled with smoke and flashes of red orange and green, stars sprinkled down on us and the noise was deafening. The engery of the huge crowd was palpable as the intensity of the fireworks increased. The excitement rose and grew until it felt like the city exploded into a huge wave of smoke and dust covering the area and the crowd went wild with applause. At the height of it all my 10 year old was screaming with sheer joy and excitemnet and we could not even hear him.
In the wee hours of the morning on the 19 is La Crema, the burning. The smaller fallas are doused in gasoline and burned earlier to the squeals and cheers of the youngest Fallas fans.
The grand beauties are saved for the end and go up in glorious flames. It was heartbreaking and beautiful to watch.