The Tuscan city of Florence is a city in constant motion. There’s really never a dull moment at any time of year that you visit. The first weekend of September is no exception with the famous Rificolona Festival or the Paper Lantern Festival.
Why Is the Rificolona Celebrated?
The Rificolona is actually a religious celebration and coincides with the Holy Day of September 8th– the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s believed that the celebration began in Roman times as early as the seventh century and in Florence there is record of it from the twelfth century. The tradition goes that peasants and pilgrims came from the countryside to the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence on this day to honor the Virgin Mary. They brought with them various offerings including their harvest to be blessed. For their long journey, they lit their way with lanterns (probably made out of cloth).
How It’s Celebrated Today
The origins of this beautiful festival continue to thrive today in the basilica square with an agricultural market boasting fresh, local products on September 7th and 8th. Today, the procession on the evening of the 7th at about 8 pm, is led by the Cardinal and departs from Piazza Santa Felicita to Piazza Santissima Annunziata. You can take part in this ancient tradition and follow the hundreds of people through the streets of Florence carrying your colorful paper lantern.
Once the group arrives in the Piazza Annunziata, the festivities begin! If you do attend, here is a “heads up” for a custom that might seem rather strange if you’re not prepared for it. You will probably see children blowing spit wads at the paper lanterns. There is a reason for this lewd behavior!
It dates way back to when the peasants would attempt to dress in their best clothes to make the pilgrimage to Florence. Florentine children would make fun of them and try to sabotage the peasants’ lanterns with spit wads in order to make them tip over and catch fire. Their lanterns were obviously superior to those of the peasants and were most likely made of colorful tissue paper. The tradition stuck and don’t be surprised when most of the lanterns are burned by the end of the celebration. You may also hear this traditional song being chanted by the locals:
Ona Ona Ona ma che bella rificolona
la mia l’è co’ fiocchi, la tua l’è co’ pidocchi!
è più bella la mia, di quella della zia…*
Which roughly translated means- “What a beautiful lantern…mine has bows and yours has fleas! Mine is prettier than yours!”
So grab your lantern, sing along, and have fun enjoying one of Florence’s most ancient and original folkloric festivals!
photo credits: visitflorence.com; teladoiofirenze.it