It never ceases to amaze me how many incredible things there are in Spain that we  Americans don’t know anything about.  Las Fallas is definitely in that category.

In March of every year, in Comunidad Valenciana (the “state” of Valencia) on the Mediterranean coast, giant statues, anywhere from 5 to 50 feet tall and made of styrofoam, paper, and glue, are squeezed into narrow streets and squares in the capital city of Valencia and in the smaller villages throughout the region.  The artwork is spectacular.  The enormous statues are a satirical poke at local politics, celebrities, and world events.

Burning Falla

Las Fallas has become such a big event that designing and building the statues, called Fallas, has recently been designated as a full-fledged college degree program.  There are hundreds of people who spend all year creating the Fallas for a week long celebration (the best part is just on the weekend) and then on the last night, starting at midnight they torch ’em.  It’s a stunning sight — 3 story tall figures being engulfed by flames while firemen dowse the close-enough-to-touch buildings to keep them from burning down.

Here’s a little peek  at one of the workshops.

During the entire year, neighborhood associations called Casal Fallers work to prepare for the festival.  Granny and Poppy, Mom, Dad, the kids, and Uncle Bob all get to play.  All year long they have parties and fund raisers (frequently involving paella)  to prepare for the March festival.  Many members of the Casal have elaborate costumes that they wear for events and parades throughout the year, and each Casal has their own band of musicians that stroll around all year long playing everything from traditional songs to Shakira’s latest hits.

If you come to Las Fallas, pay attention to where you’re walking.  Fireworks are a big part of the party and we’ve seen even 3 yr olds lighting and hurling firecrackers — but these are no wimpy Black Cats.  We’re talking ear-shattering mini-explosions.

Fallera BeerAs usual, the details give clues about the culture.  I spend the whole week with a grin plastered on my face, from watching things like fully decked out children playing soccer in the street, babies tooting on their little plastic horns, the kids in the parade in full costume with their heads buried in their cell phones texting their friends.  My personal favorite, though, is seeing a beautiful young Spanish woman strolling down the street in her spectacular Fallera dress, makeup, special hair-do — and sipping on a bottle ‘o beer.

And if you’re a prude, you better stay home.  The Spaniards don’t share our shyness about nudity — many of the statues are quite sexy and often feature over-the-top big boobs.

Here’s a little travel tip.  If you don’t like crowds — and the crowds are enormous in Valencia —  then consider seeing seeing Las Fallas in one of the many villages in the area where they celebrate the holiday with equal enthusiasm.  The Fallas are built by the same workshops as the ones in Valencia, you still have the mascleta (fireworks) and the parades and costumes and bands — just with a fraction of the crowds.  And you can actually find a bathroom or a place to eat!