September has started, schools are opening again and children begin to scramble to finish their homework for the holidays, buy backpacks and colored boxes for their pencils and
get frustrated for the end of summer. I well remember those days before classes, mixture of sadness, happiness and excitement. The end of summer (not the season but as a period of holidays and idleness) was marked for me, as a child of Florence, with a party, the Rificolona.
As a medieval city, Florence still retains many of the popular traditions of the time, the traditions to which we Florentines are very attach and that we carry with pride year after year.
Every September 7th in fact we celebrate Rificolona. But what is it?
Around 1600 the peasants descended from the countryside of Casentino and Pistoia around Florence to the Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata to celebrate on September 8th the birth of Our Lady. Taking advantage of the anniversary farmers prepared a fair in the square next to the Basilica selling the products of their land including various food types and yarn. To win the best place and then be ready to show the goods in the morning of the fair these people were leaving their houses the day before to arrive in Florence by night, and lighted their way with lanterns of different shapes hanging on top of wooden sticks. Once in the square the peasants were resting and bivouacked on the steps of the church, eating, drinking and singing.
Over the years this practice has been kept and transformed becoming a party for kids who buy or build themself lanterns (called Rificolone) of various shapes (every year more and more commercial) carrying them around Piazza Santissima Annunziata surrounded by singing, dancing, candy and stalls selling local products and handicrafts.
I well remember my mother helping me choose the most beautiful and most colorful lantern (often shaped like the sun or the moon) and the joy of keeping it in the air singing the traditional song “ona ona ona ma che bella rificolona …”. I also remember my grandmother telling me about how she was all dressed up as a child to stand on the boats on our dear Arno River. In fact, in the 50’s during the night of Rificolona majestic boats were decorated with colorful lanterns and flowers carrying on the river allegories in papier mache.
Each year every neighborhood of the city offers activities of various kind. From lanterns’ workshop to free watermelon stalls, from floating lanterns on the Arno to parades every September 7th our streets are filled with lights and colors.
For those in Florence next year, if you want a taste of our tradition you shouldn’t miss the chance to buy a nice colorful lantern and immerse yourself in the crowd. (Beware, however, the blowguns!)