What did I just witness in Ghent?
November 12, 2014 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm visiting Ghent and a small, ragtag parade just went under my window. What gives?

We were out walking earlier and saw a group of what I'd estimate to be college students wearing brightly colored sashes and waving flags with various. Tests on them. They were in a castle and playing marching band type instruments. Many had on lab coats that had been signed by people. Some had soot smudged on their faces.

That was hours ago and just now the same group paraded down the street in makeshift floats and throwing fire crackers with the band leading the way. What did we just witnes?
posted by Saminal to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go after them and ask them! They speak English and sound fun. Plus you're in Ghent, which is a city made for adventure if ever I've seen one.
posted by entropone at 8:26 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sint Maarten dag. They would have appreciated some snoepjes.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:26 AM on November 12, 2014

Hmm, Sint-Maarten was actually yesterday. I assume related to the coming of Sint Nicholas with the soot and all. (Don't dig too deeply into this if you're "culturally sensitive".)
posted by humboldt32 at 8:31 AM on November 12, 2014

It sounds more like it's related to some aspect of their studies. Maybe they finished a certain stage of it. The lab coats suggest something medical or chemistry-like.
Sint Maarten is something that is celebrated by children, not students, and the same goes for Sint Nicolaas.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:35 AM on November 12, 2014

I agree with Too-Ticky. Now that I think about it I remember something similar in Antwerpen. Students in lab coats with signatures on them. They seemed to be doing something like a scavenger hunt.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:46 AM on November 12, 2014

Here is a photo of students wearing a signed lab coat. The caption says "Thousands participated in the Saint-Verhaegen parade, to commemorate the founder of the Brussels university ULB." Here is a blog post with more details-- it indicates the celebrations might start weeks in advance of the actual day, Nov 20.
posted by acidic at 8:52 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lab coats with signatures suggests to be that they have just graduated / completed some class. If they will no longer be seeing their classmates regularly they sign each others coats as mementos.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 8:58 AM on November 12, 2014

Looks like acidic has it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:15 AM on November 12, 2014

Best answer: They are commemorating the Gravensteenfeesten. Described as the biggest student prank in Gent, it dates back to November 1949 when students protested a price increase from 2 to 3 old belgian franken for a beer ("pintje"). Armed with beer and fruit they entered the Gravensteen and managed to withstand the police for quite some time. Eventually the police was able to reenter the castle and some students were arrested. None were prosecuted because the inhabitants of Gent found it all rather amusing.

It is celebrated by all student associations of Gent (each field of study has one, some Belgian regions have their own as well).

The lab coats are worn by all and are not limited to medical fields. As a member you wear the same labcoat from you initiation on, the scribblings are made during various activities.

The day ends with a big cantus somewhere in the city, which consists of speeches, singing old songs and lots of beer.
posted by schamper at 9:43 AM on November 12, 2014 [22 favorites]

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