Hello from Valencia! This week in Valencia is a festival called Las Fallas. Traditionally, it is a week long festival in honor of San Jose, with the cultmination of the festival on the Dia de San Jose, which is March 19, but now it has more of a touristic importance than a religious one. Hundreds of thousands of people travel each year to Valencia to celebrate Las Fallas, and it is now one of the main sources of income for the Valencian community. Each neighborhood of Valencia builds a float called a falla, (or falle in Valenciano, one of the four official languages of Spain) and a ninot, a smaller version of the falla. Most of the fallas are based off of either a current political or cultural issue. This year, a lot of the fallas were designed around the economic crisis in Spain, and one was even dedicated to the "death of music", based off of the deaths of Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston. During the week leading up to the Dia de San Jose, judges go around and view every falla and ninot in order to determine a winner. On Monday, the winner is announced and "pardoned" from La Crema, which translates to "the burning." At midnight, each of the fallas, adorned with firecrackers and fireworks is lit on fire and the all night party begins.
While the big party is Monday night, there are many activities daily during Las Fallas. Every morning at 8 am, bands march through the streets playing lively music and setting off firecrackers, as a sort of a wake-up call. Later in the day, at 2 pm in the Plaça de l'Ajuntament, the main plaza, they have the mascletá, which is a 10 minute firecracker display that is presented by the Fallera Mayor, who is said to be the prettiest girl in all of Valencia. It is absolutely amazing because it's not just fireworks going off randomly, but almost like a song. They're so loud that your entire body is vibrating and ash is falling everywhere...it's a complete sensory overload!
In Alicante, they also have a similar festival to celebrate San Juan called Las Hogueras, which is in late June. Every night, fireworks are set off from the Castillo de Santa Barbara, and the last day of the festival, each of the hogueras, which are are the same as the fallas but smaller, are lit on fire. While during Las Fallas the fallas are burned to show respect to San Jose, who is the patron of carpenters, the hogueras are burned not for Catholic reasons, but for Pagan reasons. Las Hogueras usually falls around the time of the vernal equinox, and it is said that the burning of the hogueras is used to give the sun more power, since the days will start getting shorter from that point on.
It was really amazing to see such a unique festival here in Spain. I really can't think of anything to compare it to in America, but if you were to take the fireworks from the 4th of July, mix it together with the celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and add the crowds and parades of any sports celebration, you can sort of imagine it. But when it comes to the burning of towers the size of many of the buildings on the CU Boulder campus, there are no comparisons!