St. Nicholas

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 Portugal

The Festas Nicolinas in Guimãraes dates back to 1691. Pilgrims to Our Lady of Guimãraes and those passing through on the way of Santiago de Compostela brought St. Nicholas traditions to Guimãraes. These led to the formation of the Brotherhood of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of students, by University students. Over time it shifted to secondary school students. The festival, the oldest in Guimãraes, began as a one-day celebration with Mass in the morning of December 6, followed by popular games in the afternoon. The Brotherhood of secondary school boys, established a capela de São Nicolau in the Church of Nossa Senhora de Oliveira.

Statue
Sãn Nicolau statue on procession
Photo: Festas Nicolinas
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Students with cart
Students gathering food donations from city market
Photo: Festas Nicolinas
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Crowd in plaza
 Thousands gather for the pine tree ceremony and all-night processions

Photo: Festas Nicolinas
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Over the centuries, the festival waned and was revived in 1895. It grew to two days, December 5th and 6th, and then to eight days, November 29–December 7. The Botherhood, made up of male secondary school students, is responsible for the celebration. The entire festival is for male students only; girls and young women watch, and take part, from balconies. As the festival grew to more days, it has become more complex. There are the nine events, some on more than one day:

Novenas As the festival falls during the Novena (9 day prayers) to Our Lady of Conception, Novenas have been a part of the festival since the beginning. They are observed at 6 am on the 1st to the 9th of December. After the Mass in the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Fora, students go to the city market to collect food. It is then taken to the Poor House where students join residents for breakfast.

Nicolinas Suppers Former students march through the city before eating in local restaurants.

The Pine Tree On the night of November 29, a large pine tree is put into place at midnight, followed by processions. They last until dawn, with lanterns, garlands and drums. Thousands of current and former students gather to take part in the all-night spectacle.

Retrieving food basket
Students collecting food donations to share at the Magusto

Photo: Festas Nicolinas
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Drummers in white shirts, red & green hats
Drummers accompany all the processions

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Town crier on balcony
Town Crier delivers speech in 1 of 5 locations
 
Photo: Festas Nicolinas
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Posse and Magusto The Special Events Committee forms the posse to collect donations of food from the city—nuts, wine, apples, lupins and straw. A band playing the "Hymn of Nicolinas" and a large crowd follow. When the food has been collected, students share it with their followers in the Plaza de Santiago. This was originally done on December 6, but is now on the 4th at 9 pm.

The Proclamation A "Town Crier" is chosen from among the students to deliver a formal speech calling citizens to the festival, praising the earth and all that is sacred to students, with classical references, satirical comment on current events, and a warning to busybodies and gossips. Drummers accompany the crier, who delivers his speech in five locations on December 5th. Dress is formal: suits, bow ties and gloves. Some lucky folks will receive the honor of a printed copy of the speech.

Thievery What began as pranks, moving things from their rightful places, became infiltrated by true thieves, leading to the banning of the practice. Regulated and reinstated in 1994, the custom now takes place with student participants authorized by the committee. They leave official cards when items are moved about on the evenings of December 4 and 5.

Maçãzinhas On the afternoon of December 6 at 3 pm, former courtship patterns are re-enacted as a tribute to the Patron Saint of poor girls. Boys put ribbon sstreamers on spears. Each color has its own meaning; white is for mothers. Apples are put on the ends of the spears and then held up as gifts and with the streamers are made as declarations to the girls on balconies above. Themed floats form a parade behind the young men.

Bright streamers
"Asking" streamers for the Maçãzinhas

Photo: Festas Nicolinas
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Basket of red apples
Apples, placed on spears, to be offered to the girls on balconies
Photo: Festas Nicolinas
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Girls on balcony
Girls waiting on balcony; some with return gifts
Photo: Festas Nicolinas
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San Nicolau Dances & Comedy These eveing secular parties offer comedy, humor and satire.

Nicolino Homecoming Ball The festival concludes with a final ball on the night of December 7.

Sources:

Site Oficial das Festas Nicolinas
Velhos Nicolinos
Municipio de Guimarães

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