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Las Fallas 2008
15 18 March Valencia
Las Fallas is undoubtedly one of the most unique and crazy festivals in Spain. What started as a feast day for St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, has evolved into a 5-day, multifaceted celebration of fire. Valencia is usually a quiet city with a population of a half-million, but the town swells to an estimated three million flame-loving revelers during Las Fallas.
Las Fallas literally means "the fires" in Valencian, a provincial language between Spanish and Catalan. The focus of the fiesta is the creation and destruction of ninots--huge cardboard, wood and plaster statues--that are placed at over 350 key intersections and parks around the city. The ninots are extremely lifelike and usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events (lampooning corrupt politicians and Spanish celebrities is particularly popular). They are crafted by neighborhood organizations and take about six months to construct. Many ninots are several stories tall and need to be moved into position with cranes.
The ninots remain in place until March 19th, the day known as "La Crema." Starting in the early evening, young men with axes chop holes in the statues and stuff them with fireworks. The crowds start to chant, the streetlights are turned off, and all of the ninots are set on fire at exactly the stroke of midnight. Over the years, the local firemen, called "bomberos," have devised unique ways to protect the town's buildings from torching along with the ninots, such as by neatly covering storefronts with fireproof tarps. And each year, one of the ninots is spared from destruction by popular vote and exhibited in the local Museum of the Ninot along with the other favorites from years past.
Besides the burning of the ninots, there is a myriad of other activities during the fiesta. During the day, you can check out the extensive roster of bullfights, parades, paella contests and beauty pageants around the city. Spontaneous fireworks displays occur everywhere during the days leading up to "La Crema", but another highlight is the daily mascletá which occurs in the Plaza Anyuntamiento at exactly 2pm. When the huge pile of firecrackers is ignited, the ground literally shakes for the next ten minutes.
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