Well hello there! It’s been awhile since I last blogged. And now I have so many things to tell you about Spain that it is impossible to fit them all into one blog post. So over the next few days (hopefully!) I will try to update my blog with recent happenings of the past few weeks!
A few days after my visit to the castle at Xativa, one of the biggest festivals of the year in Spain, Las Fallas began. I have never experienced anything like it and it may have been one of the most fun weeks of my life. Think Christmas, New Years Eve, and Fourth of July celebrated all at once and you might be getting close to how amazing Las Fallas is. Here’s a look at the many festivities that I was able to participate in.
Las Luces de Calle Sueca, Calle Cuba y el Convento Jerusalem
The day after Xativa and a few days after Fallas, I headed out to see the light displays in the city with my host mom. (I think that I had asked her every day since my arrival when they were going to turn the lights on). So when the time finally arrived, I was beyond excited. There are three streets that are known to have the best lights in the whole city and nearly everyone in the city goes to see them. Along the way we stopped for the best buñuelos (pumpkin fried dough covered in sugar) in the city and roasted castañas (chestnuts).
When we arrived at the best displays, I had no idea that in addition to the beautiful light displays there was also a light show in two of the neighborhoods. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before and the music ranged from a traditional Spanish ballad to Bohemian Rhapsody. It was such a fun environment. Everyone was outside enjoying the evening with friends and family. There were candy stands and food stalls all along the streets. It was an amazing evening and a good taste of the incredible moments that were yet to come.
The actual week of Fallas they have a fireworks show (un castillo) every night. And when I say fireworks show, I mean fireworks show. Valencian fireworks are known for being some of the best in the world. Each show lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes and nearly every firework that I saw was a shape or color that I had never seen before. I have always loved the Fourth of July, but I must admit it is not going to look quite the same after this.
Unlike a fireworks show in the States, the Valencians tend to be very quiet when they are watching fireworks. One night I could hear a group of girls with North American accents exclaiming, “What is this? This is crazy!” as they watched the fireworks. I think they echoed everyone else’s thoughts that wasn’t from Valencia that night. We’ve been missing out on real fireworks.
The Castillos began between 12 and 1 am every night. I went with a group of friends from church and school and we had a great time. Thank you to the boys from church who walked us home every night to our front doors!
Las Fallas refers to the sculptures that are made by each neighborhood. I read an article that this tradition actually started with something akin to spring cleaning. The Valencians would put out everything they didn’t want into the middle of the street in big piles and burn it. This tradition has evolved into creating sculptures which tend to critique some aspect of society and burning them at the end of the week instead.
I could not believe how big and beautiful many of the sculptures were and also that they were about to be burned in just a few days. My host mom and I spent eight hours viewing nearly all of the important fallas and those in between. (There were over 300 fallas sites in the city).
During two of the days of Fallas each neighborhood brings a flower offering to a statue of the Virgin Mary. With their flowers, they create the dress of the Virgen. My host mom calculated that there were probably over 30,000 people representing their neighborhoods with flowers. Young and old, men and women, were dressed in traditional Fallas outfits to bring their offering to the Virgen.
I snapped some pictures of them as they made their way through the city streets. I only briefly saw the completed Virgen when hurrying through the streets of Valencia to watch the fallas burn.
Churros y Chocolate
I don’t this needs much of an explanation. But let’s just say, I had so many churros, bunuelos, and chocolate that I thought I wouldn’t be able to ever eat them again. (I enjoyed a nice cup of Spanish chocolate two days ago, so I’ve already proved myself wrong).
La Carpa del Barrio
Every neighborhood (barrio) has a tent (carpa) where the paying members of the fallera group of the neighborhood gather to eat and spend time together during the week of Fallas. My host mom received tickets to have refreshments from a Fallas tent and took me, Helen, and our wonderful neighbor with her. We asked if we could see inside their tent and were given permission.
I had seen so many of the tents from the outside all weekend long, so I was thrilled to actually know what went on inside. Inside I found decorations and people enjoying spending time together. Nothing too significant, but my curiosity was satisfied.
Las Mascletas are firework shows that happen during the day. Rather than focusing on the light display, the focus is on the sound that the fireworks make. Every day there were mini mascletas in the neighborhoods as well as a huge one in front of the Valencian government building.
It was so loud that you could feel the vibrations and had to plug your ears. It was also incredibly impressive.
The last night of Fallas was the night I had been waiting for. The night when “La Crema” (“the burning” in Valenciano) occurred. I got together with a group of friends at 10 and we headed out at 10:30 to see the various Fallas burn. We didn’t really have an agenda, we just wanted to find one burning.
I thought that it would be easy to see many fallas burn, but I discovered that people typically only watch a few. Each falla has to burn at a different time to allow the firemen to arrive to ensure that nothing outside of the falla catches on fire. The falla is filled with fireworks that shoot off into the night sky and announce that it is about to burn. Prior to burning the falla, more fireworks are strung on the outside and a flammable liquid is poured over the surface of the falla. When the firemen are ready, the fallera of the neighborhood lights the match and starts the falla on fire.
After seeing one, we were hooked. The flames were as high as the apartment buildings and the heat was incredible. Some of us made it until 3am, often times running through the streets of the old city to try to catch the burning of another falla. In total, I saw five fallas burn and saw two more burning on my way home. Needless to say, my concept of a bonfire night has also been forever tarnished.
When I woke up the day after Fallas, I could not believe how the city had transformed itself. People had stayed up all night and were working into the morning cleaning up the remains. By the time classes ended that day, you could hardly tell that Fallas had just happened.
It was an incredible week full of spending time in community, witnessing amazing artistic talent, and growing to love this amazing city and the people in it even more.