PEIM! PEIM! PEIM!
Let me start by translating, you see, PEIM! PEIM! PEIM! really just transcribes to BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! At least this is what I was told by a true Valenciana, but I choose to believe her since she is a reputable source that I have known for a few years. I have visited Valencia many times in the past few years, since having family here, but never had I been during Las Fallas. I knew it was going to be loud, crowded with visitors and extremely chaotic but needed to experience it firsthand since my family has been talking to me about it since first visiting them in Spain. Las Fallas is a celebration that takes place over five days, happening each March to commemorate Saint Joseph in Valencia and the surrounding area. Valencia is the third largest city in Spain.
Each and every day at 2 pm, there are earth shattering fireworks, known as mascletas, that take place in the main square of the city, Plaza del Ayuntamiento. First thought was why are the fireworks not set off at night, so you can see them? Wrong... It is not about the beautiful display of light but about the incredible amount of noise set off by professionals that erupts from the square, with crowds upon thronging crowds vying for the closest spot, to be as close to the action as possible. People line the streets surrounding the square, every local terrace and even on side streets with no view, because remember you are not here to watch but to feel. Each display starts off slow, not so loud and builds up its tempo during the process, with crackles of light bursting before your eyes. The momentum builds up so much that during the end of the display you feel your face cheeks vibrating from the sound waves bouncing off of them: it is that intense. Each day the momentum is different making the proud people cheer so loud they rival the just finished mascleta symphony. Are they crazy? Yes, and I went 4 days out of the 5, each in a different spot trying to get as close as possible, and loved every intense second.
Las Fallas is a long standing tradition in Valencia with each neighborhood having its own Fallas Club, and since birth you have the choice to be part of everything. The beautiful costumes are usually handmade and worn with pride during these times. The time, thought and effort is apparent in the stunning visuals that make up the details of this tradition of customary dress. Each neighborhood's club marches in a parade-like fashion, towards Plaza de la Virgen to bring offerings of large arrangements and of flower bouquets to Virgin Mary. Many participants have been involved since children, causing it to be a highly proud, extremely satisfying and emotional experience.
Marching through the streets to Plaza de la Virgen, you can see that each handcrafted dress is exquisite, ornate, with each more beautiful than the last, with each lady being infinitely proud of her Valencian heritage. Their smiles shine brighter than the expensive and bright textiles that adorn their bodies.
For the women, men, and children every outfit is planned carefully with nothing left to chance.
Upon walking through many small and narrow streets, they reach the square called Plaza de la Virgen, where they first encounter the sight of Virgin Mary, who is fastidiously adorned with flowers upon flowers by volunteers. With each arriving group, each person brings a bouquet of carnations, or other flowers, which are used to fill out the body of the Virgin Mary, previously a wooden framework. This processional parade reaches an apex when arriving in the Plaza, which takes over the course of two days with people marching through at all hours of the day and night.
At this time, flower arrangements, both large and small, are deposited and placed in the square, put to good use in decorating the festive Plaza. It was clear to see how involved the Valencian people of all ages were, from newborns to adults, some of which I am sure have not missed a year in the chance to be involved. Touching it was, to see so many of the women enter the Plaza, kissing their bouquet before handing it over, and even taking a keepsake of a single bloom. Many women and men leave the Plaza while wiping tears from their eyes, understood since this is such a deep rooted experience for them.
Each Fallas club brings a large arrangement with them that has been carried during the course of the parade from their respective neighborhoods. Each Falla club is also responsible for designing and building large sculptures which are then displayed prominently in the corners of the corresponding neighborhood during the festival. Each year a theme is issued and each club is judged according to how well their idea has been thought out and executed. Prizes are then awarded and on the last night of the festival, the sculptures are burned signifying the end of Las Fallas. Flames lick the sides of each piece until nothing but burning embers, smoldering in the street, are left behind.
It is a week of chaos, with the sound of firecrackers bursting loudly at all hours throughout the streets of Valencia. Coming from a country where I would never witness such an event, I was ecstatic to see and feel so many things during this time. It was incredible to see how another culture celebrates their heritage while mixing in flowers, such as the carnation that so many of us overlook, into something that is held so dear to them in tradition. If you ever have the chance, I recommend at least one day to revel in the festivities: it is an opportunity not to be missed and one that definitely will not be forgotten.
Gracias, Valencia - James