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A Valencian Tradition

Alicia Ambrosio

Thursday, March 31, 2011

VALENCIA, Spain -- In medieval Valencia carpenters would mark the feast of St. Joseph by clearing their workshops of old projects, prototypes, pieces that didn't work out, etc. On the eve of the feast of St. Joseph Valencian carpenters would set these pieces on fire. This fire was considered a purifying fire, eliminating the old and useless after the winter, and making room for the new things that the spring would bring.
This medieval ritual has changed considerably, but the intention is still the same. Today the Fallas festival in Valencia lasts one week, always running through or coinciding with the Feast of St. Joseph. Instead of burning old pieces of woodwork, special wooden statues or monuments are built in plazas throughout the city. Each monument or "falla" has a different theme, and is usually satirical. The main falla at this year's festival was about sport, because this year Valencia was declared the European capital of sport. The falla was a caricature of a runner crossing the finish line while various elements satirized doping in sport.
For one week Valencians celebrate with fireworks, light shows, hot chocolate and "churros" (sticks of deep fried donut batter sprinkled in sugar) and traditional devotional events. On the eve of the feast of St. Joseph "falleras", young women dressed in the traditional Valencian costume, offer flowers to the Virgin of the Abandoned, the patroness of Valencia. The flowers are woven together on wooden frame of the statue of the virgin to make a cloak of flowers for Our Lady.
The next day the falleras  parade through the city passing by the major fallas. Valencians watch and wait for the mid-afternoon firecracker throwing at each falla. We're not talking a handful of roman candles, the firecracker throw lasts a good 10 minutes and by end of it the streets are filled with smoke and the smell of explosives.
On the last evening of the festival Valencians gather at various locations around the city where fallas are standing tall and wait for one of the falleras to set the monuments on fire. The bigger the flames, the louder the clapping and music.
The falleras and falleros are one aspect of a very colourful Spanish culture that WYD pilgrims may experience this year in Madrid!
Photos: Alicia takes in the festivities of Valencia with some of the locals.

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