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The What and Where of the Festa della Rificolona

If you’re in Florence in the first week of September, check out the Festa della Rificolona for one of the best Italian festivals. It is a truly charming experience steeped in religious and cultural tradition.

Where is it, when is it?

Before we get to the meat and bones of the festival, let's get the details out of the way. The Festa della Rificolona takes place on the 7th of September and begins at 8.00 pm. It takes place in Florence on the streets around the Basilica Santissima Annunziata.

What is the Festa della Rificolona?

Image by Nicola Ferruzzi

The Festa dell Rificolona, otherwise known as the paper lantern festival, is one of the best Italian festivals and specific to the Tuscan capital of Florence. This festival celebrates the birthday of Madonna who sometime, over 2000 years ago, was born in a small village close to Nazareth.

In Florence, the Basilica Santissima Annunziata is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. And, for centuries, peasants and farmers would travel in pilgrimage from the surrounding areas to participate in the religious celebrations.

It also provided an opportunity for those in attendance to trade their goods. Many of the farmers who traveled the distance brought with them cheeses, cured meats, honey and other products as the day after the festival the square in front of the basilica transformed into a giant market. This tradition remains to this day.

But, what about the paper lanterns?

Well, the farmers who traveled to Florence from the surrounding areas had to get up at the crack of dawn to get to Florence on time. And, in the days before cars, electricity or even torches, they needed something to guide them through the dark. So, they turned to lanterns. Of course, this was also in a time before oil wicks. As such, the candles in these lanterns were susceptible to a strong gust of wind. In order to get around having to keep relighting their guiding lights, the farmers placed paper covers over the flame, protecting it from the elements. So was born this wonderful Florence festival.

What does the festival involve?

The Festa della Rificolona’s main event is the procession. This takes place from Piazza Santa Felicita through to the Piazza Santissima. Before sunset though, be sure to head to the banks of the River Arno where color paper lanterns float along the water.

Images by Nicola Ferruzzi (adjusted)

The procession is the most beautiful part of this Florence festival. It kicks off at 8.00 in the evening. And, involves a long, slow march, with people carrying lanterns accompanied by a band. A tradition of the festival is to try and knock the candles in the lanterns over to set them ablaze. Children will spit wads of paper at those walking by in the hopes of doing so. This stems from the fact that when the festival first began, the farmers who attended were derided and mocked by the city folk.

Image by Nicola Ferruzzi

The following day, the Piazza Santissima turns into a big market that sells fresh organic produce. So, be sure to head down and pick yourself up some great stuff.

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