Here in the United States, one of the surefire signs that spring is imminent is to turn clocks ahead for daylight saving time. In Spain, however, particularly Valencia, there’s a very different tradition to welcome the season of renewal—a festival that features a parade and a mass bonfire on city streets.
The bash is called Las Fallas (pronounced FY-YUZ), and it will end Sunday with a conflagration of papier-mâché statues throughout downtown. It was added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2016.
The festivities revolve around these statues—technically each is called a falla—which neighborhood groups fund and build over the course of weeks and months leading up to the event. Some of the statues are between 60-75 feet tall. Most are created to assume roles in a scene that makes a satirical comment on politics of the day, and many are on display at local museums leading up to this week.
According to sources in Valencia, there are more than 250 statues this year.
For 2017, Las Fallas fun really got rolling Wednesday, when groups paraded their fallas up and down city streets, then parked them on street corners for viewing and final improvements.
In true Spanish style, what comes next will be a giant party—one that shuts down streets and brings in food stands and DJs and more. This party includes daily fireworks displays called the mascletas. They’re basically rhythmic explosions to stimulate the body.
The party runs nonstop until midnight Sunday, when all the fallas are burned with fireworks—a destructive end to a wonderfully festive and creative celebration.
Curiously, there seems to be some dispute about what the festival commemorates every year. Official documents indicate the event commemorates Saint Joseph, which is precisely why it’s held on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19. But Valencia locals insist Las Fallas has become a celebration of local carpenters and art of carpentry that is unique to Valencia.
Whatever the motivation for the event, two things are certain: (1) It’s a rollicking good time, and (2) It’s certainly bigger and bolder than simply moving the clocks ahead.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.