Festa das Latas

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November 1st 2006
Published: February 25th 2007
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This last week has been an interesting one here in Coimbra. The annual Festa das Latas (Party of the Cans - doesn’t translate so well…) started last Wednesday and culminated with the “Latada” last night. The Festa das Latas used to be held at the end of the school year, when law students finished their exams before the other schools and ran through the streets with cans tied to their legs to irritate all of the students who were still studying. Now it’s held near the beginning of the year and is a way to welcome the freshmen, called caloiros, to the university.

The festa started last Wednesday night with a big fado concert at the university, and all week long there have been concerts at the stadium with some pretty big name Portuguese and European bands. Last night was the final, blow-out night, with a big parade and a "baptism" of the freshmen in the river. Each freshman student has a godmother or godfather, an older student who takes care of them and dresses them up in a silly costume. The costume colors are loosely determined by the program that the student is in, so dark blue for letters, orange for psychology, yellow for pharmacy, red for law, etc. The older students wear the traditional Coimbra student outfit of a black suit and tie, and they each bring a turnip and walk around forcing the freshmen to take a bite. The turnip is supposed to "sustain" the freshmen throughout the parade, but I can’t imagine that a raw turnip would taste all that great - we saw a lot of them spitting it out after the older students walked away. Another thing the freshmen had to do was to go around asking people for spare change - not sure what this was for, but we were glad we had some small coins with us. Some of them even sang songs to ask for money.

The parade started at the university, headed slowly through the city, and ended at the river, where the freshmen were "baptized." Most of the students just leaned over and had river water poured over their heads from a bucket, but some people ended up in the river, either on purpose or because they fell in while trying to get water. We saw one guy getting baptized in a fountain in a park by our house.

The whole thing, as you can imagine, was pretty alcohol-fueled, but as far as we saw it was all very good-natured. Even the freshmen, despite being dressed in pretty ridiculous outfits, were really good sports about it and seemed to be having fun. There were all sorts of people out to watch the parade, too - families with kids, confused tourists, and a surprising number of old ladies.

- Lindsay

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