fiestas of Valencia, Spain and T&T
about fire, food, fun
and bullfighting are the two most common things people associate
with Spain. However, not all Spaniards are flamenco dancers
and matadors, and Spain is so much more than flamenco and
bullfighting. Owing to a long and interesting history that
saw various groups like the Romans, Visigoths and Arabs
occupy at one point or another what is present-day Spain;
the Spanish culture like ours is truly a multifaceted one.
Our beautiful country boasts of possessing a rich diverse
culture that allows for the celebration of numerous festivals,
religious or not, throughout the year. Similarly, the people
of Spain celebrate quite a number of holidays as all Spanish
towns and cities have their own feasts, in addition to other
holidays that are celebrated at a national level. One particular
region of Spain with several popular festivals is Valencia.
While the festival known as Las Fallas is one of the most
unique and different festivals in Spain, it does bear some
similarities to one popular celebration in our own cultural
calendar, the Muslim festival of Hosay. Both festivals last
over a period of days and involve parades; the highlight
of both festivals is elaborately decorated and detailed
statues or models which take months to build and both festivals
end with the destruction of the aforementioned statues or
Las Fallas is the Valencian Spanish word for fires
that has come to be associated with a huge celebration in
Valencia, attracting visitors from all parts of the world.
The climax of the festival is the burning of ninots, enormous
statues depicting satirical scenes and aspects of current
events that are made from wood, cardboard and plaster. They
are placed at more than 350 different intersections and
parks around the city until March 19, the day known as La
On the evening of La Crema, young men use axes to make holes
in the statues in order to fill them with fireworks. All
streetlights are turned off, crowds chant loudly and, at
midnight, all the ninots are set on fire. Each year, one
ninot is preserved from the fire and added to the local
museum as a keepsake.
Although there are no ninots in Hosay, there are the tadjahselaborately
decorated models of mosques that are paraded through the
streets. Like the ninots, these take months to build and
are indeed works of art.
However, while the ninots are destroyed by fire, the tadjahs
are traditionally destroyed by dumping them into the sea.
Furthermore, although both festivals span a period of several
days Hosay normally last four days whereas the celebrations
of Las Fallas last five.
There are, of course, many differences between these two
festivals, the main difference being their origin. Hosay
is a Muslim festival celebrating the martyrdom of Hussain,
a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who was killed in a battle
at Kerbala, Iraq for refusing to accept Yazid as the successor
or caliph to his grandfather. It is celebrated by the Shiites,
Muslims of the minority opinion and supporters of Ali, Muhammads
first cousin and son-in-law.
On the other hand, the origin of Las Fallas is linked to
an evolution from pagan rituals celebrating the start of
spring where the streetlights used in winter were burnt
on the feast day of St Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters
in the Catholic faith.
Another difference is when the festivals are actually celebrated.
Hosay is often celebrated either in April, May or June as
it is based on the lunar year which is shorter than the
solar year. However, Las Fallas is always celebrated in
March, as it ends on St Josephs Day.
There is another festival in SpainLa Tomatinawhich
bears some similarities to a festival in Trinidad, the festival
of Phagwa or Holi. While in Buñol, Valencia, people
throw tomatoes at each other, in Trinidad, Hindus cover
each other in abeer.
Famously known as the worlds largest vegetable fight,
La Tomatina takes place on the last Wednesday of August
every year. This year, La Tomatina coincides with the festival
for Buñols patron saint and the festivities
begin a week before the actual day of the fight.
On the actual day of the festival, storeowners busily cover
their doors and windows in anticipation of the days
messy events. As trucks laden with more than 90,000 pounds
of tomatoes from all over Spain make their way through the
streets to the main square, official instigators hang on
the back to throw their contents at revellers who gather
their ammunition from the tomatoes placed in the streets
the night before.
The differences between the two festivals are many.
While the festivities for La Tomatina usually last a week
in August, those for Phagwa last two days in either late
March or early April. Both festivals also have very distinct
On one hand, La Tomatina dates back to the 1940s when a
group of friends started a tomato fight in the towns
main square. Although it is not certain if the initial tomatoes
were aimed at city officials or unlucky pedestrians, what
began as a small fight quickly grew into a huge food fight,
with passers-by joining in the fun.
On the other hand, Phagwa is deeply rooted in the Hindu
faith as it celebrates the burning of Holika, a girl immune
from destruction by fire. When the king tried to destroy
a little boy called Prahalad by ordering his evil sister,
Holika, to take him into a fire, because of Prahalads
faith, his sisters immunity to fire was erased and
she was destroyed but he lived.
So although Spain may be in a different part of the world,
on a different continent with a different language, like
T&T, it is a country of many festivals with a rich and
diverse culture, which should be explored and enjoyed beyond
the typical stereotypes associated with it.
For more information about the Spanish As the First Foreign
Language (SAFFL) initiative, please contact the Secretariat
for the Implementation of Spanish (a division of the Ministry
of Trade and Industry) at 624-8329/627-9513 or fax us at