Crack. Bang. Boom. Shaking the palm trees and ricocheting off the thin walls of apartment buildings, firecrackers crash and collide with the pavement. Children scream and chase the sparks, sending short flickers into the air. In the distance, shots thunder through the air, making hearts beat faster and dogs bark louder. White tented stands crowd the streets offering charred sausage links, liters of cold cerveza and brightly colored woven bracelets. Wisps of steaming chocolate slip under my nose, steering me to a stall covered in mounds of fried, sugary churros. People pour into the streets, filling narrow alleyways, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the daytime fireworks.
The Valencia sun hits my back further bronzing my already tanned skin. It’s April 14th, the weekend of Valencia’s most celebrated event, Las Fallas. Known throughout the country as one of Spain’s most spectacular festivals, Las Fallas brings thousands of people to the coastal city. The sound of fireworks and the rhythmic thumping of reggae ton music rip through the humid air, emphasizing the beginning of this incredible festival.
Las Fallas, literally translating to “the fires,” has become a festival to celebrate the end of winter and beginning of the spring season. For months, locals construct elaborate monuments out of wood, paper mâché, and other materials depicting various whimsical and magical scenes, changing each year. Scattered around the city and tucked into side streets, the fallas (the actual monuments) tower over cafes and apartment buildings, splashing color into browning alleyways and grey cobblestone streets. This year’s theme (or what I thought it could be) centered around classic childhood fairy tales and mythical legends.
As if the fallas are gods themselves, the celebrations are focused solely on the majesty of the enormous monuments and their ultimate burning at the end of the two weeklong event. Every day, around 2pm, the Plaza del Ayuntamiento plays host to a spectacular daytime firework show called the mascleta. Crammed and squished, people flood the streets to see any sign of the mascleta, pushing and shoving their way closer to the action. At all hours of the day, visitors gather in the streets, dancing, eating, and reveling in the beauty of the fallas.
People spend endless hours building, painting, and constructing the fallas, sometimes up to the very last day of the festival, only to set them on fire. The culmination of Las Fallas is what attracts thousands of people to the event. Always held on the 19th of March, the burning of the fallas occurs at night (called Crema Night), illuminating the sky in electric flames of orange and yellow.
The darkness of the sky falls in sheets around me, sending a warm breeze through the crevices in my jacket. Sparks blaze through the night like multicolored shooting stars, banging and flowering into dripping chandeliers and spotted circles of red and gold. Small children cover their ears but open their eyes wider. Faces shine in the night, glowing in the reflection of bursting fireworks and scattered streetlamps. They boom and explode, falling fast, disappearing in seconds. Winter is over; Spring has begun.