Florence brings back the celebrations of the ancient ages and transforms them into colorful festivals showcasing tradition, culture and the pagan rites of times gone by. One of the exciting and brilliant festivals is the Festa della Rificolona that lights up the streets of Florence with an almost Oriental air and a pagan ambience.

Florence comes alive with a festive air as the children dressed in their Sunday best sing songs and carry papier-mâché lanterns tied to the ends of sticks, called rificolone. The legends surrounding the famous Festa della Rificolona twinkle in and out like the rificolone themselves. Many of the Florentines believe that this festival was held in celebration of the triumph of Florence over Siena on August 2nd, 1555, with lanterns tied to the ends of the soldiers’ pikes. But a more popular belief surrounds this celebration with a huge autumn fair held in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata on September 7th, the day before the nativity of the Virgin or the eve of the Feast of the Madonna. This 17th century festival is also celebrated in other parts of Tuscany though it is typically Florentine.

As interesting myths surround this colorful festival, its origins go back to ancient times when the farmers traveled to the city to celebrate the Feast of the Madonna. Dressed in what the farm people thought was suitable for the city, they brought their wares and produce as part of the festivities to be sold in an open market. To get a vantage position to sell their goods, the farmers and their families started their journey to the city before dawn. As they had to cross a great distance in the wee hours of the morning, they made lanterns with canvas or paper to light their way. The lanterns twinkling across the dark night delighted and inspired the Florentines to make lanterns swinging from side to side on a pole that resembled a swaying long skirted woman. The Festa della Rificolona is full of fun and frolic with both adults and children with clappers and whistles walking along the streets aiming at the lanterns with pea shooters causing the lanterns to burst into flames. The origin of the name of the festival stems from the word ‘fierucolone’ which eventually evolved into ‘rificolona’ in dialect that describes a woman who is over dressed or who dresses in poor taste. With the farmers and the villagers coming into the city to earn money before winter, both their outfits and their lanterns would be ridiculed by the children of Florence who would shoot at the lanterns with their blowguns. The children would make up little ditties like:
Ona, Ona, Ona,
O che bella Rificolona,
La mia l'é coi fiocchi,
La tua l'é coi pidocchi!
The translation reads:
Ona, ona ona,
What a beautiful Rificolona,
Mine with bows is tied,
In yours do lice reside!

The lovely 'Festival of the Lanterns' is said to be one of Florence's oldest festivals and is accompanied by a traditional boat parade that is illuminated with a kaleidoscope of colored lanterns in different shapes and sizes with prizes awarded to the best and most original boat. Even to this present day, traditional Rificolona laboratories are managed by the City Wards to preserve the art of lantern making. The children are taught to make their own lanterns with colored tissue paper. They would shoot at the farmers’ lanterns with blowguns so that the candle inside would be knocked down and the paper lantern would be set ablaze.

The Festa della Rificolona has as part of its celebrations, parties in the square and street theater performances accompanied by their delicious traditional cuisine. The amazing festival ends with a long and color splashed procession from Piazza Santa Croce to Piazza Santissima Annunziata, which is led by the Cardinal. After a solemn address, the revelry goes on till the sun comes up. As one of the most important festivals, the Festa della Rificolona was originally organized by the organic food producers of Italy and still continues its heritage to this day.