Las Fallas (the bonfire) explodes over Valencia every March from the 12th to the 19th. It takes the whole of the previous year to get organized and everybody joins in the preparations. The city buzzes with a festive vibe all week, but alike all good parties, it is a night when people really get down to some serious celebrating.
The tradition of Las Fallas began in the 18th century. At that time, craftsmen used special candles to light up the dark evenings while they were working. At the end of the winter they celebrated by burning all their waste material in a ceremony that brought together people from all the neighbouring communities. Before burning the waste material, they made it into life-like statues, and then dressed them up to look like well-known but unpopular local characters.
Nowadays, the statues, some of them over 30 metres tall, are made of cardboard and represent different aspects of modern Spanish society. The whole of the previous year is spent fund-raising, planning and constructing the monuments, some of which are worth over 500.000€. But they all go up in flames with the maximum amount of fire and noise before the end of the festival.
The Valencians like their guests to enjoy themselves. Valencia by day may be sleepier than Valencia by night, but during Las Fallas there´s always something going on. From the outskirts of the city, 200.000 girls and boys, wearing traditional dress, march into the centre of town bringing flowers to decorate the statue of the Blessed Virgin.
The festival reaches its climax on the 19th of March, a public holiday and St Joseph ´s Day. This is the night when the cardboard statues are burnt . As midnight approaches , a feeling of anticipation rises up from the streets and hangs over the city. Firecrackers go off every second or two and midnight passes in a shower of explosions. The last statue burns down and ends Las Fallas. It is a sad moment, but the Valencians don´t have time to mourn the end of this year´s festival. After all, they´re too busy planning for the next one.
Extracts from Inside Out. Intermediate Students book. Macmillan.