Las Fallas, the Festival of Fire Celebrated in Valencia

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Every year the city of Valencia in Spain celebrates the ancient "Las Fallas" fiesta, a noisy week that is full of fireworks and processions in honor of Saint Joseph which climaxes in the burning of large papier mache figures displayed around the streets of the city.

Las Fallas is celebrated to commemorate St. Joseph's Day, the Patron Saint of Carpenters. Las Fallas literally means "the fires" in Valencian. The focus of the fiesta is the creation and destruction of ninots (“puppets” or “dolls”), which are huge cardboard, wood, paper-machè and plaster statues. The ninots are extremely lifelike and usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events. A popular theme is poking fun at corrupt politicians and Spanish celebrities. The labor intensive ninots, often costing up to US$75,000, are crafted by neighborhood organizations and take almost the entire year to construct. Many ninots are several stories tall and need to be moved into their final location of over 350 key intersections and parks around the city with the aid of cranes on the day of la plantà (the rising).

The ninots remain in place until March 19th, the day known as La Cremá (the burning). Starting in the early evening, young men with axes chop cleverly-hidden 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 12am midnight. Over the years, the local bomberos (firemen) have devised unique ways to protect the town's buildings from being accidentally set on fire by the ninots: such as neatly covering storefronts with fireproof tarps. Each year, one of the ninots is spared from destruction by popular vote. This ninot is called the ninot indultat (the pardoned puppet) and is exhibited in the local Museum of the Ninot along with the other favorites from years past.

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See last photos of last year’s celebration.

A painter works on a cardboard satirical sculpture, known locally as a Falla, during preparations for the Fallas Festival  in Valencia on March 13, 2012. The Fallas will be burned in the streets of Valencia on March 19, 2012, as a tribute to St Joseph, patron saint of the carpenters' guild. AFP PHOTO / JOSE JORDAN (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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Fallas fireworks...epa03151810 People enjoy a street fireworks display, or 'Correfoc' (Running Fire), in downtown Valencia, eastern Spain, 19 March 2012.  EPA/KAI FOERSTERLING

Last day of the Fallas Festival, Valencia, Spain - 20 Mar 2012...Mandatory Credit: Photo by Agencia EFE / Rex Features (1680307a)
 A Falla is burned
 Last day of the Fallas Festival, Valencia, Spain - 20 Mar 2012

Last day of the Fallas Festival, Valencia, Spain - 20 Mar 2012...Mandatory Credit: Photo by Agencia EFE / Rex Features (1680307d)
 Two firemen supervise the burning of the Fallas
 Last day of the Fallas Festival, Valencia, Spain - 20 Mar 2012

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A fireman sprays water on a traditional "ninot" sculpture as it is burnt on the last day of the Fallas Festival in Valencia on March 19, 2012.  The "Fallas," the name of structures made of cardboard, wood or cork, are exhibited in the streets of Valencia during the festival and set on fire on the last day of the 10-day celebration.      AFP PHOTO / JOSE JORDAN (Photo credit should read JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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Paper mache figures are burned during the Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain, in the early hours of Tuesday March 20, 2012. Every year the city of Valencia celebrates the ancient "Las Fallas" fiesta, a noisy week that is full of fireworks and processions in honor of Saint Joseph which climaxes in the burning of large paper mache figures displayed around the streets of the city. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)

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Photos: Reuters, Getty Images, AFP, AP Photos

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