Festival of São Gonçalinho in Aveiro, Portugal, might be one of the most dangerous festivities you may witness. If you find yourself in this cute coastal city on the weekend closest to 10th of January, make sure you've got yourself a helmet, but also bring an umbrella and a butterfly net with at least 2 meters long pole. Why such an equipment, you may ask. That's to ensure a safe participation in this unique festivity, where you can easily get hit by a flying cake!
In the heart of Aveiro, the old neighbourhood of Beira Mar, once home to local fishermen, São Gonçalinho is the most favourite saint, known for his great sense of humour, but also for being a matchmaker and healing different health problems. The saint was born in 1190 in Arriconha, near Guimarães, gaining fame as a matchmaker while he preached in the parish of Aboadela do Marão. He died in 13th century. His cult expanded, having arrived quickly to Aveiro, more precisely to the neighbourhood of Beira-Mar.
The main feature of the celebration is the "payment" of the promises that consists in the throwing down of "cavacas" (very hard dry cakes made of egg whites, flour and covered with icing sugar), from the top of the chapel of São Gonçalinho. While some are throwing the cavacas down, others are trying to catch them, using the most varied utensils - like umbrellas or butterflies nets, or other tools specially designed for the occasion. Interestingly, every year new catching contraptions seem to come up. There are innumerable kilos of cavacas thrown and caught during the days of the festivities. Most of them end up in someone's net, but some can hit you in your head, so be careful. The soundtrack of the festivity is the ringing of the chapel bells that attracts hundreds of people to make a wish or fight for a "cavaca".
Besides "cavacas" there are other traditions in honour of São Gonçalinho. One of them happens inside the chapel, and it's called "Dança dos Mancos". It's a ritual dance, performed by a group of men who, pretending to be handicapped move around, limping and dancing to the sound of popular songs chanted by themselves. Besides, there is a whole program of the festivities that usually last for five days: free concerts, flea markets, fireworks, and other parallel activities.
It's said that this tradition started during the plague as a way for the rich to give food to the poor with less risk of catching the disease. They decide to give them food by throwing it away from the of the chapel so that they don't get in touch with the infected ones. The chapel was constructed in 1714.
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