During this festival, the children of Florence carry papier-mâché
lanterns, of various shapes and colors tied to the ends of sticks as
they walk through the streets of the city. These lanterns are called
The origin of this festival is not known for sure but legend tells
that it could have begun in 1555 when the triumphant Florentine troops
returned from Siena with lanterns tied onto the end of their pikes.
Most probably though, is that the Festival began just before the
celebration of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary celebrated every year on
September 7th, when farmers and mountaineers came to the city to sell,
buy, and trade at the annual Fall Market held in the Piazza of Saint
In order to find the best place on the square, the farmers, and
mountaineers, dressed in their Sunday bests, would leave during the
night before dawn, carrying lanterns with candles and paper wind shades
to illuminate the way. Their attempt at elegance was ridiculed by the
city dwellers; in fact even today, one who dresses badly is referred to
as a "rificolona" by the Florentines. Children would imitate them by
making their own lanterns made of colored paper and follow along their
trail blowing whistles and singing rhymes, and shoot at their lanterns
in the attempt to rock the candles out of place. This teasing was
tolerated only by grasping on to the thought of the earnings that would
be made the next day at the market to get them through the long winter
that awaited them.
Slowly, with time, the country and mountain people no longer needed
this market but nonetheless, the ritual of the children became a custom.
Even today, every year preceding the celebration of the Nativity of the
Madonna on September 7, the Festa della Rificolona takes place and
finishes off with a procession, led by the Cardinal, to Piazza
Santissima Annunziata where merrymaking continues on far into the night.