The festival of Las Fallas, in the city of Valencia in Spain, is the kind of event that brings the entire community together... it is a loud, smoky and high-spirited fiesta where the whole town is, literally, set ablaze!
The festival welcomes spring and honours Saint Joseph's Day with the burning of giant elaborate sculptures and effigies of wood and plastic.
It all started as a feast day for St Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. It then evolved into a five-day, multifaceted celebration involving fire. Today, an estimated three million flame-loving revelers are part of the Las Fallas celebrations.
The focus of the fiesta is the creation and destruction of puppets - which are made of huge cardboard, wood, papier-mâché and plaster. A popular theme is poking fun at corrupt politicians and Spanish celebrities. The labour that goes into the creation of each statue takes almost a year in its own right.
According to the legend, Las Fallas originated as an evolution of pagan rituals that celebrated the onset of spring and the planting season. In the sixteenth century, Valencia used streetlights only during the longer nights of winter. The street lamps were hung on wooden structures - called parots - and as the days became longer the now-unneeded parots were ceremoniously burned on St Joseph's Day.
During the event, one can enjoy bullfights, parades, paella contests and beauty pageants. Spontaneous fireworks displays explode everywhere during the days leading up to La Crema. The highlight, though, is the daily mascletá which occurs in the Plaza Ayuntamiento at exactly 2 pm.
A glimpse at the festival of fire!