If you’re lucky enough to be in Portugal in May, you may find yourself watching people burn different colored ribbons in a large, black chamber-pot. Lucky for two reasons: 1) you’re in the beautiful city of Coimbra, and 2) you’ve just joined one hell of a party! Welcome to the Queima das Fitas: the burning of the ribbons.
Although the origins of this tradition started in the 19th century, the Queima das Fitas as we know it today began at the University of Coimbra in 1919 and shortly afterwards, spread to the University of Porto. The tradition was a way for final year students to enjoy a week of festivities after the end of classes and before the start of final exams. The celebrations last eight days, one for each of the university’s schools. For these eight days, the streets are filled with parades, concerts (both student bands as well as professional groups) and dances, all of which attract thousands of visitors. And yes, there’s lots of drinking involved, as revealed in the videos below.
Students carry their pastas (cases) with eight ribbons hanging from them. The colors of the ribbons represent the school that student belongs to. For the University of Coimbra, the colors are: Yellow (Medicine), Red (Law), Light Blue (Sciences), Dark Blue (Arts), Red & White (Economics), Orange (Psychology & Education), Purple (Pharmacy) and Brown & White (Sports). Students also carry a badge, the grelo, which holds a narrow ribbon in the same colors. In Coimbra, this ribbon is burned in a large chamber pot that is used during first year initiation ceremonies – which, I feel, is a poignant touch.
Each university (Coimbra, Porto, Braga, etc.) has its own specific traditions during its Semana Académica (academic week). In Coimbra, the students kick off the celebrations at the Sé Velha (Old Cathedral), where the traditional serenade indicates that the Semana Académica has begun. You can watch the video of this year’s serenade, featuring Portuguese guitars and singing here. At Porto University, for example, students wear top hats in their respective colors and get tapped on the head with a cane by their favorite professor. I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not making this up!
Because these festivities are better seen than described, here are some examples – dating from 1946 and 2015, respectively. When I say it’s one hell of a party, I mean it.
There’s only saying that comes to mind: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… Congratulations to all final year students. Enjoy your partying and good luck for your exams!