Valencia Festivals

The hard-working, carefree and boisterous character of the Valencians - "full of talent, subtle speech and keen inventiveness", as Father Tarifa described them in the 18th century - is the reason for their well-earned reputation of people who love to celebrate. The large number of celebrations - some religious and other historical - that take place everywhere in Valencia and its province during the year is yet another proof of its varied regions. These celebrations are extraordinarily popular and take place in the open air, mostly with the help of fire, music and gun powder.

For the people of Valencia, the most important festivals are Las Fallas. Every year, Las Fallas and the spring season seem to reach Valencia at the same time. The word "falla" is of Mozarabic origin, derived from the Latin word "facula", which means "torch", and the celebration developed from burning useless material accumulated in the workshops, a tradition established by the Carpenters Guild in the 13th century. These bonfires may trace their remote origins back to the Roman saturnalia, but the used figures burst with biting wit. The celebrations are officially classified as of interest to international tourism and convert Valencia into a pedestrian area during the entire week of Las Fallas, i.e. from the 12th to the 19th of March, because they must be savoured in the street. They range from "la desperta", to the traditional "crida", the so-called exhibition of "El Ninot", a procession of floats called "La Cabalgata del Reino", the flower offering to the Virgin and the impressive fireworks, as well as that sounding board which are the "casales falleros", where fritters are an obligatory part of the festive art of cooking. After the "Nit del Foc", the "Night of Fire", comes the grand finale on March 19th, the day of "la crema" - the burning.

Another very important celebration in Valencia is without a doubt the commemoration of the reconquest with mock battles between Moors and Christians, which are extremely outstanding in the inland regions of the southern province. The most important ones take place in Alcoi in mid-April, in Onteniente in the last week of August, in Bocairente in the first week of February and in Olleria in the second September week.

The deep-seated love of fire, which is so common in the Levante of Spain, becomes visible most clearly in the bonfires (Hogueras, les Fogueres) that are especially frequent around San Anton (Jan. 17th) in the municipalities of Cofrentes, Camporrobles, Cuadete, Casa Bajas, Manises etc., although the largest of all is the Canals Pyre which reaches a height of 20 metres. Bonfires are also lit on the beaches around the Noche de San Juan (Saint John's Night, from June 23rd to 24th) and on September 3rd in Agullent, which deserves special mention as it represents "the miracle of San Vicente de Ferrer's lamp".

Las Carnestoltes is a Valencian term referring to the carnival season beginning in February. It is of heathen origin and stands for the straw figure which hangs at varying height in some villages, usually mocking the devil and being burnt on Ash Wednesday. As a celebration for the public entertainment with disguises, Las Carnestoltes were important in Valencia until the beginning of the 20th century, but today the festival is confined to fancy dress balls indoors. In some villages of La Ribera Alta, the celebration is taken into the open air again. In Xativa around this time, the people usually make the traditional almoxavenes - a sweet speciality consisting of flour, egg and sugar.

In Holy Week, the processions of the Maritime District of Valencia are especially interesting, as well as the ones in Benetuser, where Passion performances take place in the streets, or those in Gandia because of their precious costumes and in Moncada, which are officially held to be of interest to tourists with scenes of the Passion taking place in natural surroundings. Easter Saturday in April marks the begin of "les Pascues" or "Pascua Florida", a festivity celebrated in the nature with picnics, where people eat "la mona" (pastry incorporating a hard-boiled egg) and fly a kite ("catxerulo" in the vernacular). This is a splendorous part of the festive calendar, followed by the celebration in honour of San Vicente Ferrer with the performance of his miracles on altars raised by the brotherhoods in the streets.

After the feasts of "La Sant Cruz" (Holy Cross), the enthusiasm of the people reaches its peak during the "traslado" or transfer of "La Mare de Due dels Desamparats" from the Basilica to the Cathedral (2nd Sunday of May). Also typical is the "fira de l´escuraeta" (popular Valencian ceramics), a fair held on Zaragoza Square.

June contains the traditional procession of "Corpus Christi" which has taken place since 1355 and includes many biblical figures preceded by "Las Rocas" - many centuries old carriages. Especially noteworthy in the popular July Fair (fira de Juliol) is the already 100 year old International Musical Bands Competition, ending with a flower show (Batalla de Flores).

In August and September, there is a sheer endless succession of festive occasions in the whole province, including the Patron Saint festivity which would be incomplete without processions, the "romerias" (festive-religious excursions), popular dances, the driving of young bulls through the streets (encierros de vaquillas) or "el toro embolado" (a bull whose horns are decorated with wooden balls). In August the following celebrations stand out: la "enrama de la Murta" in Almacera (2nd fortnight); "les alfabegues" (basil plants) feast in Betera, from 15th to 22nd; la "carxofa" and "la dansa dels porrots" in Silla, from 4th to 20th; "el torico de la cuerda" in Chiva, from 15th to 25th; and in the last week of August "La tomatina" (tomato battle) in Buñol and "la corda" in Paterna, while the Grape Harvest Feast in Requena lasts until the first week of September. In September, appreciable celebrations are "La Moixeranga" and all the other dances performed in Algemesi, from 6th to 8th; "les festes d l´arros" in Sueca, in the first fortnight; San Miguel Arcangel in Liria on September 29th, which has been celebrated since 1466; and the Patron Saint celebration in Gandia dedicated to Frances Borgia and celebrated for the first time in 1673. On October 9th, the feast of San Dionis allows Valencia to commemorate the conquest of the city by Jaime I.

This summary is just a short extract of the long calendar of Valencian celebrations and festivals, which is concluded by "La Fira de Nadal" - the Christmas event in Valencia - a fair especially designed for the entertainment of children.

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