One of the oldest academic traditions in Europe takes place in Portugal during the month of May. Queima das Fitas – the burning ribbons festivity, also known as the academic week, is one of the most important celebrations for Portuguese students.
Queima das Fitas started during the first half of the 19th century and ever since the festivity has only become better. The event combines only the best of celebrations: concerts, parades, sports events and lots of beer. It’s almost like a student festival.
The oldest academic week started in the University of Coimbra, the first Portuguese University. The festivities begin the first Friday of May and last for 8 days. During this week, the local community joins students from all over the country to celebrate the students graduating in parades with music and beer showers.
One of the main elements of Queima das Fitas is the Serenata Monumental. It marks the beginning of the academic week. Students join in the stairs of the Cathedral to perform a beautiful fado song throughout the night, while wearing their signature black capes of the praxe – the portuguese integration at the local universities which inspired the Harry Potter uniforms in J. K. Rowling’s books.
The festivity got its name after the tradition that marks this week. Students hand silk ribbons to their friends and family to write wishes for their new chapter. These ribbons are kept in a black book. They keep one for themselves, the black ribbon, where they write a message to themselves with their biggest regrets. Once the Queimódromo is open, students gather around a cauldron and they burn the black ribbon as a symbol of getting a fresh start and leaving their regrets behind.
Each faculty has ribbons with different colours, they allow you to identify the faculty the student belongs to. At the end you save all the ribbons your friends wrote in the black book. The rest of the week carries in a spirit of party and companionship, with lots of beer to the mix.
The celebration in Coimbra attracts students from all over the country. Since it’s the biggest party before all the festivals of the summer, many students from Lisbon and Porto join the celebrations. There are many trips organised by Erasmus organisations so you can enjoy it with great company. If you don’t feel like going all the way to Coimbra, although it would be a shame since it’s a great opportunity to meet new people and be part of a great tradition, you also have many events all over the country. Currently, there are 18 main celebrations, some of which have developed traditions of their own.
In Lisbon, for instance, the festival begins the 8th of the month until the 18th, with special performances 15th to the 18th in the village of Carcavelos, you only need to buy your tickets and enjoy the party next to the incredible beaches of the coast.
In Porto the festival starts on may the 5th to the 11th of the month. You’ll have amazing food, what better time to taste their signature francesinhas, and of course it’s not a party without awesome music by the hand of a great selection of DJ’s.
In Braga we have one of the most interesting celebrations from the 10th to the 17th of May and it’s called Enterro da Gata – the burial of the cat. The cat represents the failure of the school year. A parade through the city where students say goodbye to the city that saw them grow during their university years with a coffin that is carried around with the “cat” ends with a ceremony for the burial of the “cat” (no cats are harmed during this festivity).
Besides the academic week, each university organises its own Queima das Fitas, but of course it’s just a smaller version than what happens in Coimbra. Students burn their black ribbons and celebrate graduating from university. If you are currently in Portugal, stay tuned and don’t miss the chance to experience this tradition at your university!
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