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Comparing fiestas of Valencia, Spain and T&T

All about fire, food, fun

Flamenco 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 models.

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 Crema.

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 tadjahs—elaborately 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, Muhammad’s 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 Joseph’s Day.

There is another festival in Spain—La Tomatina—which 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 world’s largest vegetable fight, La Tomatina takes place on the last Wednesday of August every year. This year, La Tomatina coincides with the festival for Buñol’s 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 day’s 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 origins.

On one hand, La Tomatina dates back to the 1940s when a group of friends started a tomato fight in the town’s 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 Prahalad’s faith, his sister’s 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 623-0365

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