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The fascinating history of the Fallas festival
Even if you didn't know anything about the history of Benidorm’s incredible Fallas festival, you’d have a ball.
But if you know a bit about its history, it becomes a compelling drama that brings the past spectacularly back to life.
The word ‘fallas’ has its roots in the Latin word ‘facla’ meaning ‘torch’ and it’s said that it was originally a pagan festival.
Pagans worshipped nature and had long held the tradition of burning fires to welcome the spring. The element of fire was related to the sun, the giver of life, a purifier and that which would help to bring a strong harvest.
In Valencia, including of course Benidorm, this gave townsfolk the opportunity to burn all the debris that was accumulated over the winter months: gardening waste, bits of wood, etc.
Later on, when the Christians came to rule the lands, the festival was made to coincide with St Joseph’s day, the patron saint of carpenters and more generally, of Benidorm itself.
Slowly, over time, the debris was fashioned into crude puppets which were constructed in the likeness of local public figures. These puppets would be riotously burnt on the final day of the festival, giving the people an opportunity to publicly mock and/or criticize unpopular events or people.
Politics and rebellion
The burning of the puppets, known as ‘ninots’ also symbolized freedom from thinking any longer about such unpleasant issues. A fresh beginning as it were.
In keeping with the fire theme, the puppets would be stuffed with fireworks and the whole finale would be a huge, explosive community celebration.
This, dear readers, has not changed for millennia. Today, the streets are still alive with celebration and vibrancy during the 5 day celebration.
The Valencian Fallas festival is unique. Even General Franco could not stop this lively festival from taking place, although it was diluted somewhat. It’s something of a testament to Spanish rebelliousness and free artistic expression and reminds us why the Spanish are so famous. One word. Fiesta!
Benidorm Fallas today: the low-down
So now for a bit of the nuts and bolts of today’s modern Fallas. Each district in each participating Valencian town has team of ‘Fallers.’ In Benidorm’s case, this means three teams, representing the three districts of Es Tolls, Benidorm Centro y Rincon de Loix.
Each team spends the entire preceding year constructing elaborate giant sized puppets, often mocking, satirical and wickedly humorous.
Day 1 (March 15)
On the first day of the Fallas festival, (always March 15th) the creations are paraded through the streets to great pomp and ceremony. This is known as the ‘planta.’
Day 2 (March 16)
The 16th March is a more religious affair, dedicated to the Virgin of the Sufferance, Benidorm’s other patron saint (see related article here).
The day usually begins with a rousing ‘despierta’ (awakening) at 05.30, summoning the faithful to the streets.
The entire community then parades through the town, visiting all the districts and beaches with the statue of the virgin that was found miraculously washed up there back in 1740.
Note: If you want to really feel a part of this traditional religious celebration, bring some flowers to offer to the statue. It’s a traditional mark of respect known as the ‘ofrena de flors’ (the offering of flowers).
Days 3 and 4 (March 17-18)
On the day of the 17th and 18th, all the different teams parade through their respective areas. Afterwards, they visit each other’s districts with their ‘fallas,’ which is at once the name for the festival and for the giant puppet floats.
Day 5: St Joseph’s day (March 19)
The 19th is the grand finale, known as the ‘crema.’ Once again, the streets are awakened with a rousing ‘despierta’ (wake-up call) at 08.00. After that, the day is divided into religious and not-so-religious events.
First is holy mass in each district’s church. This is followed by the ‘mascletá,’ a boisterously noisy firecracker show which I think it’s fair to say is not for the faint-hearted!
Following this is the grand parade of all the fallas together, applauded by many thousands of enthralled spectators. It’s full of costumes, fireworks, music and performance known as ‘Cabalgata del Fuego’ (The fire parade). Wow, wow and wow.
Then finally, each of the fallas are extravagantly burnt down, each in its own district and to riotous partying and merriment. Times are staggered so you can get to see all the different districts’ fallas being swallowed up magnificently by fire. All accompanied by the incredible firework displays that the Valencians are renowned for.
If there is any time to visit Benidorm, this is it. Bursting with life and colour. Enjoy!
Top Tip: Check with your hotel for the full programme of events with locations and timings of each event. The dates (15-19 March) are the same each year.
For info on Benidorm Fiestas in general just click here.