Everybody knows that the Fallas Festival in Valencia takes place in the middle of March, coinciding with the arrival of spring and the festivity of St Joseph. But, in fact, the celebrations start much earlier. From the last weekend of February, the excitement can already be felt in the streets of the city as the countdown begins…
Valencians have been eagerly waiting for this moment for nearly a year. To be precise, from the very moment the last pile of ashes from the burning of last year’s fallas was swept away on 20 March, they have been planning and looking forward to the next edition of the festival. Now the time is nigh. And this year’s event will be more special than ever, celebrating the Fallas’ new status as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, awarded by UNESCO. No wonder everybody is so excited!
Start with a bang
Crowds will start gathering at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall square) in Valencia from around noon on Sunday 26 February to secure the best place for the mascletá at 2pm. Given the Valencians’ love of fireworks, there could be no better way of marking the start of the countdown to the Fallas Festival than “the mother of all mascletaes”, the biggest, loudest and most spectacular firecracker display.
After this, there will be no respite until the festival begins. Every day from 1 March, the locals will religiously flock to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento at 2pm for their daily dose of gunpowder, noise and smoke, provided by the mascletá.
Everybody is welcome
In the evening of Sunday 26 of February, the crowd will gather again by the historic Torres de Serranos, one of the few remains of the medieval city walls, for La Cridá. This special event, which means “the call” in Valencian, marks the official opening of the Fallas Festival.
At 8pm, the Fallera Mayor of Valencia (elected Fallas queen), surrounded by her Court of Honour and the city authorities, will step out onto the stage set up for the event, to make the official call for everybody to come and enjoy the Fallas. She will proclaim the excellence and virtues of this historic tradition, which have earned it the recognition of UNESCO.
Saved from the flames
At the end of the Fallas Festival, on 19 March, all the monumental fallas sculptures that have been set up in squares and streets throughout the city are burnt to a cinder. There are only two ninots (the individual figurines or groups that compose the fallas) which are saved from the flames each year – one from the adult fallas category and one from the smaller, children’s equivalent.
Which ninots should be the lucky ones is decided by popular vote. Every Fallas Commission, the association behind each falla, selects two candidates (one per category) to be put forward for this special pardon. All the selected ninots are displayed in a special exhibition open to the public, where they can vote for their favourite one. The Ninot Exhibition can be visited at the City of Arts and Sciences until 15 March, when the winners (one for the adult category and one for the childrens’ fallas) will be announced.
The ninots indultats (pardoned ninots) will be then transferred to the Fallas Museum, where they will remain permanently on display along the others saved from the flames in previous years. Those that aren’t so lucky will be returned to their owners so that they can be incorporated in this year’s fallas, ready to burn at midnight on 19 March.
There is certainly much more to the Fallas Festival than meets the eye, and those who cannot make it to Valencia for the fiesta itself can still enjoy the exciting build-up. Let the countdown begin!