By Allison Boyd, Marist Italy MA in Museum Studies, 2013-14
Every September 7th, on the eve of the Feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, Florence celebrates the Festa della Rificolona, or the lantern festival. Since Mary is the Patron Saint of the Church of Santa Maria del Fiore (better known as the Duomo), this is one of the most important feast days in Florence, and the lantern festival is the kick-off event.
Starting from Piazza Santa Felicita, processing through Piazza del Duomo, and ending in Piazza Santissima Annunziata around 8:30pm, the children of Florence process through the city carrying colorful paper lanterns. These lanterns are either store bought or homemade, and some of the homemade creations are simply amazing. All are welcome to join the procession, even if you aren’t carrying a lantern, but watch out for flying pebbles and spitballs! As tradition dictates, some of the older children will forego the lanterns, and take part in trying to knock over the candles housed inside the lanterns by blowing small stones and spitballs out of long straws. The evening ends with speeches by Florentine dignitaries and a fire where children toss their lanterns with glee to watch them go up in flames.
The historical roots of this event come from the annual tradition of residents from the Florentine countryside making the trip into the big city the night before the Feast Day of the Virgin Mary. They would bring their wares to sell in the market that took place the next day, they dressed in their finest clothes, and as they walked they carried lanterns lit by candles and carried on sticks. These lanterns created a beautiful scene and Florentines began creating their own lanterns as well.
So why rificolona? Well, what was seen as fashionable to the peasants from the countryside was not so for the Florentine city-dwellers, and the peasants were called rificolone – a word that today means a woman who wears too much makeup and has a poor sense of style. Thus, the lantern carriers were rificolone and today the festival of lanterns is the Festa della Rificolona in honor of those who first carried the lanterns.
If flaming lanterns and dodging spitballs isn’t your thing, there is also still a market in Piazza Santissima Annunziata during the day on September 6th and 7th where you can buy locally made items, such as cheese, honey, small hand-made objects, and other interesting items.