Bright sparks: The colourful pageantry (and burnt effigies) of Valencia's St Joseph's Day

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

She looks angelic in her frilly finery – but Aida and her friends have 'bad spirits' on the mind, as they join the rest of their families in the centuries-old traditions of Valencia's St Joseph's Day revelry.

Those dresses – frilly, corseted, handmade confections that are impossible for the girls to wrestle themselves into without help – can cost up to €8,000. Then there are the side orders of elaborate jewellery, sashes and Princess Leia-style hairdos. They are worn during Falles, a centuries-old traditional celebration in the Spanish region of Valencia. The other main attractions of the festivities are enormous wooden structures that cartoonishly mock society's ills, which are burnt in the streets. These constructions – also termed falles – can be 30m high and take a year to build. Yet they go up in smoke in a matter of minutes.

Anna Huix, a photographer from the neighbouring region of Catalonia, was drawn to document the festival partly because she thought it was, to put it bluntly, crazy. "To me, it's insane: how they dress, the money they spend, that they spend a whole year building these structures and then" – she snaps her fingers – "they just burn them. If you think about it rationally, it doesn't make any sense. You need to find another explanation which is not rational at all."

The tradition stretches back far into the region's past. Different groups, or fallera, are made up of families who have been part of the celebration for generations. Over the course of three months, each fallera is introduced to society, going out on to the streets in their elaborate costumes, toting their own, unique wooden structure. Then, on 19 March, St Joseph's Day – the patron saint of carpenters – all the falles are set alight. Think May Day meets Guy Fawkes: as if all the different carnival floats are torched, while a host of pretty May Queens watch.

"Traditionally, people would put old furniture in the streets and would burn it once a year so bad spirits would go away," explains Huix. "Of course, they don't believe this any more, so they make these massive structures and have a theme, criticising something in society. The idea is the same – it's getting rid of bad spirits – it's just that now it's a metaphor." Popular choices for falles include corrupt politicians with their hands in the city's coffers. All that effort – for the structures and the carnival element of dressing up – is released in the final burning, producing a powerful catharsis.

It is a female-centric festival: the women are the peacocks here, decked out in finery, while men's costumes take their cues from the ladies. Though women of all ages get dressed in the colourful, frothy dresses, Huix chose to train her lens on just young girls, as they will be the next generation to continue the tradition. But will they want to?

As far as anecdotal evidence goes, the answer is yes: the little girls, says the photographer, get very excited indeed, and she recalls seeing them crying as their falles burned. She asked one mother why, and the reply came that they were weeping because they knew they are not going to be able to have such fun until the same time the following year.

But not everyone likes Falles. For some the carnival aspect of the festival is seen as backwards; the dresses and comically grotesque structures are naff. It's deemed unsafe (there have been deaths from fire-related injuries), and the amount of noise and smoke the activity produces is a disturbance (each falle is introduced with armfuls of firecrackers, and the whole day is doused in plenty of booze). Plus, it's expensive – perhaps the strongest complaint, in a country in the depths of recession, is that Falles is a waste of money.

"A lot of the arguments against it are, 'Why are we spending this much money?' Because this is a massive industry, it's a lot of money," says Huix. "At the same time, for the people who dress like this and build these falles, it's not frivolous – it's their tradition. For them, it's beyond money. It's part of who they are."

For more from the photographer, visit annahuix.com

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living