Every year on the evening of the 7th of September, the streets of Florence are alight with hundreds of colourful paper lanterns. This is the Rificolona Festival, a traditional celebration that sees kids parade through the city centre their rificolone, or paper lanterns.
The main parade starts at 8:15 pm in Piazza Santa Felicita and ends in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata. All around the city you’ll see paper lanterns swinging from the end of sticks. Older kids join in too, preferring to shoot spit wads and stucco at the lanterns and set them on fire. It all makes for an exciting atmosphere all round.
Rificolona Festival – A tradition with an ungodly origin and a long life
This festival dates back to four centuries ago. The occasion was the celebrations of the Virgin Mary’s birthday on the 8th of September. Country people and farmers from the surrounding areas had to start their journey the day before to arrive in Florence in time for mass.
The hike was long and they used lanterns to light the way. Once they arrived in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, they would rest under the loggia, still a bit shocked by how noisy and big the city was. It wasn’t just religious devotion that moved them, but also the chance to sell their products at the ‘Fierucola’ – a market organised specially for the occasion.
But their adventure wasn’t over. Once in the city, they had to put up with the mocking of the young Florentines that teased them about their unfashionable clothes. The gaudily dressed country women were derided and called names. One of these names was ‘fieruculona’, the word for ‘market’ mixed with the word for ‘big backside’ (this word later transformed into ‘rificolona‘).
The Florentines started to parade paper lanterns in the shape of curvaceous women, and on the night of the 7th of September, it became an occasion for a raucous party more than a pious celebration. At the end of the night people would throw objects at the rificolone to make them burn. Fire, which often played a role in pagan festivities, became a way to celebrate the end of Summer and the coming of the new season.
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Why I love the Rificolona festival
This is one of my favourite festivals in my home town, Florence. Maybe because it brings back lots of childhood memories. I still remember the mix of excitement and fear of getting your rificolona ready for the parade. Trying to keep it from bursting into flame before the end of the evening. The shapes were amazing, everything from a face, a smiling sun and a little pagoda. Today you can choose one with a little bulb inside instead of the candle. That takes away the fear and maybe a little bit of the magic too. Personally, I still prefer the traditional way.
I love the fact that communities in Tuscany maintain these old tradition alive. It’s a way to treasure the past. In the era of drones and maxi screens, there’s something almost miraculous in the fact that old things like paper lanterns are still enjoyed by kids and adults today. If you’re in Florence, don’t miss this magical evening!
⇒ Read about other Tuscan Festivals, and all the events that kids will love in Florence and Tuscany.
And if you’re travelling to Tuscany in September, you might be interested in the best of September events and destinations. And some trip ideas around Tuscany at this time of the year.