From Fiery Beginnings: The History of Las Fallas
How did Las Fallas start?
If you thought the hottest thing about Valencia was its oranges, think again. Las Fallas, Valencia’s fire festival, is a flaming five-day street party. Every year in March, the community takes to the streets to burn enormous effigies, some up to 20 metres high. So how did Las Fallas start?
It is said that back in the olden’ days, the celebration echoed pagan celebrations of the spring equinox. Artists and tradesmen would work by night during winter using wooden parots to hold their lamps. Once spring sprung and the daylight hours lengthened, they no longer needed their parots and would gather to burn them on the eve of St. Joseph’s Day.
The cheeky Valencians developed this tradition into a burning of wooden effigies, called ninots, satirising the people and events of the past year. Over the years, Las Fallas has evolved to take on themes, and acts as a way for the community to criticise, tongue-in-cheek, everything from local personalities to politicians and current events. The themes of the fiery riot will reflect the political climate of the times. During the twentieth century, particularly in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, the themes became more anti-clerical and strongly critical of local and national government. There have been numerous attempts to ban Las Fallas over the centuries, for reasons ranging from lewdity to anti-government sentiment, but the passion of the people always saw the beloved fire fiesta return.
Today, the procession is bigger than ever. The ninots are often made from polystyrene and cork, allowing their enormous height. By night, the burning ninots illuminate the riotous streets of Valencia, while young and old gather to throw firecrackers about and generally run amok. As soon as the final flames die down, Valencians commence fundraising, organising and building in preparation for the next year’s Las Fallas.