Firecracker poppers snapping on the street, firework displays booming so loud that the surrounding buildings tremble, amber fires hissing every which way, sparks crackling – Fourth of July in America had absolutely nothin’ on the week-long festival of Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain.
The impressive fireworks shows that I had witnessed at Jacob’s Field and Disney World were mere child’s play compared to the pyrotechnic heaven that hissed, crackled, boomed and snapped around every street corner in Valencia.
But what was all the fuss about? The tradition started in the Middle Ages when carpenters burned the wood planks that supported the candles that helped them to work during the darkened winter nights. Therefore, the festival, celebrated in the middle of March, signifies spring cleaning and the end of long winter days.
Little by little, the carpenters began to add a little flare to their wood planks to distinguish local personality. Eventually, the plain wood planks evolved into enormous statues, 700 in all, brightly colored, intricately detailed and dotting nearly every street corner in Valencia.
Some boasted trivial themes with fairy princesses sporting glittering wings and wide blue eyes adorned with long lashes; others donned a satirical theme criticizing the ever-corrupt Spanish government by displaying a caricature of the corpulent Spanish King.
Milling around for the entire week, tourists gawk at the towering “fallas,” their necks craned and eyes strained to be able to see the whole of the statues.
But do you want to know the most astonishing part? All of them but one were to be burned to the ground at midnight on the last day of the festival. Every. Last. One.
Millions of dollars, thousands of working hours, hundreds of “fallas” – all burned. And for what? Tradition.
Why build such astonishing monuments only to have them be consumed by carnivorous fires lashing in every direction with the wind? Tradition.
A tradition of “in with the new, and out with the old.”
Sometimes the value of tradition is priceless, I guess.