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What Are the Fallas Really About
Popular thought has it that the Fallas are about burning lots of painted wood. In reality, Las Fallas have become a focus for the entire Valencian culture.
There are three meanings of the word “falla”. First of all, there are over 350 Fallas-Communities in Valencia. These are neighbourhood collectives with their own traditions and customs. They are usually communities of neighbours on a few adjacent streets and give their members a sense of belonging. The falleros support each other, socialise together and collectively undertake neighbourhood projects.
Secondly, the Fallas-Sculptures are the artistic structures of wood and papier-mache that every Falla-Community commissions for the Fallas festival. The fallas are made throughout a year, depict a certain theme (usually satirical) and eventually get burned during the festival.
Lastly, the Fallas Festival is a festivity that takes place 15th-19th of March every year to celebrate the spirit and tradition of the Fallas-Communities.
Originally, the Fallas Festival was the celebration of spring. The early
Fallas-Sculptures were nothing more than a pile of old winter junk that
got burned to clear space in the houses. In a way, it signified getting
rid of the old for a new beginning.
Although it is tempting to romantisize such a philosophical nature to the Fallas festival, these days most Valencians will be puzzled if you suggest that this is what the Fallas are about.
Rather, apart from an excuse for a huge party, Las Fallas festival celebrates all aspects of Valencian cultural traditions. The Fallas have every expression of the Valencian identity (music, costumes, rituals) and provide a focus for the Fallas-Communities to stay preserved and active.
For the Valencians falleros, the Fallas are first of all about the Falla-Community, about taking a few days off to celebrate staying together. The real focus of the festival is not in the huge Falla of Plaza de Ayuntamento, it is in the hundreds of casal fallero tents where the members of Fallas-Communities will socialise during the fiesta.
For the rest of the public, both local and foreign, Las Fallas turn Valencia into an open city where you burn yourself in 4 days of mega street party and no sleep.
The Fallas are incredible in how many dimensions they have. They are an artistic pursuit: the Fallas-Sculptures are a unique Valencian form of art (and can be very impressive). They are an intellectual rhetoric: every Falla-Sculpture is deeply though through and sharp in its satire. They are an opportunity for strengthening social bonds in the neighbourhood. Las Fallas are a hedonistic excuse for a week-long party. And yes, you could easily find a philosophical streak there too: the ease with which millions of euros burn on the streets of Valencia never stops to impress foreigners.
And, of course, it is about healthy and fun competition. From women aspiring to be Fallera Mayor, to pyrotechnic crews, carnival participants and the Fallas-Sculptures, everyone is trying to make it bigger, louder and more spectacular than their neighbours.
In the end of the day, the Fallas Festival is about keeping the community, keeping the Valencian traditions alive, creating something beautiful in the meantime and having a monstrous party to celebrate.
© ValenciaValencia.com 2006