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Honoring Spanish Culture at The LeMoyne Center: Las Fallas

Written By Sierra Kuzak, Red & Black Contributor

MAR. 3, 2023– Every year during the month of March, Spaniards celebrate a festival called Las Fallas. In true Spanish nature, this festival comes with singing, dancing and a parade. Artists spend days leading up to Mar. 15 creating sculptures made of cardboard, plaster, wood and paper mâché. These sculptures typically depict satirical scenes of humanlike caricatures called ninots, and can be as large as several stories tall.

Valencian artists spend countless hours crafting their ninots so they can be displayed during La Plantà. This event is the cornerstone of the festival. It showcases the products of all the hard work of the artists and allows for everyone in the city to behold their ninots. La Plantà lasts from Mar. 15 to Mar. 19, and during this time, the ninots are positioned in the mouths of the streets so that traffic is blocked off to allow the other festivities to commence in the plaza.

"This daily festivity is called a mascletà. A mascletà is a firecracker show that shakes the ground."

In addition to crafting the ninots, there is a myriad of other activities that occur during this festival. One of these activities occurs every day during this five-day celebration at 2 p.m. in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This daily festivity is called a mascletà. A mascletà is a firecracker show that shakes the ground. In conjunction with this aspect of the festival, there is a firework show every night. This festival concludes with an event called La Cremà, the burning of all these ninots.

Leading up to this event, there is a vote to determine the favorite ninot and once the favorite is selected, it is spared from the burning and will stay in the Fallas Museum with the favorites from past years. La Cremà is where the festival gets its namesake, as las fallas translates to the torches in English.

W&J members of the LeMoyne Center instructed students to complete a craft to emulate the spirit of Las Fallas (Courtesy Sierra Kuzak).
As entertaining as this festival is, its roots are well-documented in history. In the old times of Spain, carpenters had a tradition of burning wood that was used to hold up oil lamps that were used as a light source at night during the short days of winter. This tradition celebrates the arrival of spring and the subsequent lengthening of hours of daylight in a day. The burning took place on Mar.19, which is the day of St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. They even burned some items that they had no use for, such as old furniture. It was said that these items gave the flames human-like shapes. Because of that, the longstanding tradition has been to create caricatures of human sculptures, ninots, and then watch them burn at the end of the festival in order to signify the coming of the Spring Equinox.

This holiday was brought to Washington, Pa. by Washington & Jefferson (W&J) College’s LeMoyne Center Spanish Club. This club is made up of a group of students who come together every week to create and execute a Spanish lesson to the underprivileged children of LeMoyne Community Center, which is located behind the W&J’s tennis courts. The club is centered around a service-learning project that benefits the children via enriching their after-school program. This club is predominantly composed of students with some background in studying the Spanish language, but Spanish skills are not a prerequisite and anyone who wants to spend time teaching the students is welcome to join.

"The club was able to expand the knowledge of the rich culture of Spain for these children and, for some, foster a spark of interest in learning the Spanish language."

On Mar. 2, the children learned about the history of the fiery festival of Las Fallas, along with some relevant vocabulary, and were even able to make a craft relevant to the event. The children built a torch out of construction paper and tissue paper. This craft was able to incorporate the symbol of the torch along with the activity of creating something for this festival.

The club was able to expand the knowledge of the rich culture of Spain for these children and, for some, foster a spark of interest in learning the Spanish language. Despite the holiday not originating in this area, this experience provided an excellent opportunity for these children to be exposed to a rich culture different from what they experience in their neighborhoods.
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