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FLORENCE CULTURAL GUIDE: EVERY DAY LIFE...This Every Day Life Guide will help you understand terms, traditions, proverbs and curiosities while in Florence:
» Popular Traditions
» Useful Italian Words and Phrases
» Regional Food and Traditional Dishes
» Florentine "Proverbi", Expressions and Behaviour
» Florentine Secrets and Curiosities
Name: Calcio in Costume (or “calcio storico”, calcio fiorentino, or “calcio in livrea”)
Description: Football played in ancient foot-ball costumes between four teams, each representing one of the four historic districts (each district has a specific colour) of Florence; the players of: San Giovanni are the “Verdi” (“green”), S.ta Maria Novella are the “Rossi” (“red”), Santo Spirito are the “Bianchi” (“white”), Santa Croce are the “Azzurri” (“blue”). The tournament has two semi-finals and a finals. The goal is the “caccia” (“hunting”) and the prize is not monetary, it is a calf, which represents their physical victory and the deserved celebration with a banquet. During the game, the very strong 54 players are high on energy, passion and anxiety to win, they run, jump, fight, spectacularly fall and block their adversaries, sometimes transforming the game into a fighting arena, but their goal is to make their respective colours/districts win.
Florence Area: Piazza Santa Croce
Note: The finals of this tournament are on June 24th, the day of the celebration of San Giovanni, the patron saint of Florence. The “calcio fiorentino” derives its characteristics from ancient Rome’s traditions and habits, becoming an integral part of Florentine life and acquiring a special significance during the Renaissance. The “calcio in livrea” was played during the Carnival. In this glorious period, noblemen, especially the Medici, actively participated in the games. This tournament represents the Florentine pride of each district and, as one particular historical event reminds us, against the enemies. It includes a historic procession in Renaissance costumes of more than 500 people and among the players are the representatives of the noble families of Florence, with horses, armours, flags and music. On the other side are the equally colourful and passionate public. This event is coordinated by a special committee who have their headquarters are in Palagio di Parte Guelfa, in the historic centre of Florence.
Description: Easter is one of the celebrations held at the beginning of Spring: it may be between the 22nd of March and the 25th of April; indeed, it is within this period that there is the Spring equinox and Easter is celebrated the first Sunday after the first ‘plenilune’, after the equinox in fact. On the other hand, it is a very important religious event, which indicates the Resurection of Christ and stands as a symbolic purification and new life for all people.
Florence Area: Everywhere in Italy
Note: Easter includes Lent and the Holy Week.
Description:The night before the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, which falls on the 8th of September, people, especially children, fill the streets of Florence, Piazza Santissima Annunziata and the banks of the Arno with “lanterns” made of light paper in different shapes and colours (“rificolona” is their traditional name), the light inside giving them a suggestive life. These “rificolone” also hang from the balconies of the old Florentine houses through the ancient streets of the city. It is also part of the tradition to playfully smash them by shooting blowguns.
Florence Area: See above.
Note: This tradition started centuries ago, when, as part of the celebration for the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the peasants from the neighbouring hills and cities descended to Florence to show their devotion to the Virgin, grouping themselves in Piazza Santissima Annunziata. The procession of these peasants included lots of baskets full of goods, which they then sold in the Piazza on the 8th of September, and colourful lanterns of different shapes, made of paper, hanging from sticks and open on top, which they then continued to use during their stay in the city. This gave a special and awesome light to the square and encouraged Florentines, especially youngsters, to take part in the event, either playfully or not: young people also enjoyed smashing the poor peasants’ lanterns with watermelon peels...
Description: The fireworks previously applied to the cart are activated by the “colomba” (dove) or “colombina” (it is a rocket resembling a dove), which is launched from within the Duomo and runs rapidly along a thread and finally reaches the cart. The way the dove runs along the thread and reaches the cart signifies a new year of good, medium or bad fortune come for peasants and their cultivations. When the fireworks are activated there and incite explosions of colours that last for minutes... This event is preceded by the procession of the “sbandieratori” (flag wavers) of the Calcio Storico, and by music and armours. The cart, which is also also called “brindellone” (big tatter, due to the annual explosions it goes through) is pulled by two oxes adorned with flowers; it goes from piazzale del Prato as far as Piazza Duomo. This event is repeated every Easter morning.
Florence Area: Piazza Duomo
Note: The story of the blow of the cart derives from the first Crusades in which Pazzino de’ Pazzi, the Florentine captain, was said to have been the first to reach the walls of the sacred city of Gerusalem. He received three stones of the Holy Sepulchre. When he returned to Florence he was received with honours and celebrations, and the sacred stones were guarded over times in different churches until they were finally placed in the Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli, where they are still closely guarded today. Every Holy Saturday the young Florentines used to go to the cathedral to receive the holy fire produced by the friction of the three stones, accordingly to the tradition of the crusaders in Florence, who distributed the holy fire to everybody as a symbol of purification.
The symbolic distribution of the fire was created by the procession of these people, who carried small flames and sang “laudi” throughout the city.
The fire then started to be carried on a trypod placed on a cart.
It was subsequently substituted by a more solid and stronger cart, which could support the flames over time, becoming the famous “carro” which is still used today.
The fire too was substituted by fireworks.
Description:The Carnival is the People's feast; it is celebrated every year in February, its end varying on the beginning of Lent; its meaning is indeed playfully partying and having fun before the 40 days of religious concentration.
Florence Area: everywhere.
Note: for approximately one month the streets of Florence are filled with confetti and people, above all children, dress up in colourful and varied masks and clothes. The celebration intensifies the last day of Carnevale the “martedì grasso” (lit. “fat Tuesday”, signifying the last rich, luxurious banquet before Lent). In ancient times, carnival represented the popular manifestation of free spirit, joy, playfulness, and also a sort of revenge against the religious/civic constrictions, before Lent.
These last four years a new Carnival celebration has added to the already existing one: the Carnevale Multietnico (multi-ethnic carnival), in which the representatives of all the foreign communities in Florence participate with their beautiful and colourful dresses. The parade starts in Piazza Ognissanti and ends in Piazza della Signoria.
Name: Cavalcata dei Magi
Description: On the afternoon of the 6th of January a procession of the Three Kings reaches Piazza della Signoria where they are received by the “sbandieratori” (flag wavers); it then proceeds towards Piazza Duomo, where they finally offer their gifts to baby Jesus.
Florence Area: from Piazza Pitti, through Ponte Vecchio as far as Piazza della Signoria and then through Via Calzaiouli as far as Piazza Duomo.
Note: This ancient tradition is said to have started in the XII, in which there was a committee, the Compagnia de’ Magi, which dedicated every three years to the organization of the big city event known as the «Cavalcata dei Magi» (cavalcade of the Kings). The cavalcade was divided in three processions which reunited in front of the Baptistry and then entered the Basilica di San Marco to adore baby Jesus. The Cavalcade reached its peak during the reign of the Medici and its best representation is still the fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli in Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
Description: The 15th of August is THE day of Summer vacations. During the week in which this date is included most Italians are on holiday. It is also the day of the Virgin Mary's Assumption.
Florence Area: Everywhere in Italy
Note: The name derives from « feriae Augusti », the festivities that the first Roman emperor instituted in his honour, and lasted the entire month. The religious festivities were dedicated to maternity, fertility and the woman, represented by the goddess Diana and other divinities.
Name: Annunciazione di Maria and Capodanno Fiorentino
Description: During the day of the Annunciazione, the 25th of March, Piazza Santissima Annunziata is filled with “bancarelle” (stands) full of different types of nuts, brigidini, sweets and other items. In order to maintain the feeling of the ancient celebration of the First Day of the Year alive, the “Corteo Storico” (historic procession) walks from Ponte Vecchio as far as Piazza Santissima Annunziata.
Florence Area: Piazza Santissima Annunziata.
Note: These two celebrations used to go together until the XVIII century: the first celebrated, and still does, the Annunciation of Mary, exactly nine months before Christmas; the second, in occasion of this celebration (the Virgin Mary has always been a very important religious figure for Florentines), was the beginning of the civic year, instead of the 1st of January, and it was such for a few centuries, until the XVIII century.
The people went to the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata to adore the portrait of the Virgin in the fresco of the Annunciazione. The amount of people crowding the Piazza became larger and larger, and it is said that was when the famous fair of this square began. Everything was sold, from every type of seasonal produce to candles and ex votive objects. Inside the Basilica beautiful music was played.
This festivity is an example of the humanistic culture of Florence, according to which many festivities and traditions mix the religious aspects with the civil and “meteorologic” ones.
Name: La Maggiolata
Description: this is the celebration of all the beautiful flowers of the Florentine hills, at the peak of their scents and colours. The soberly elegant Piazza della Signoria hosts the traditional “Trofeo Marzocco” (Marzocco Trophy) for the best team, among the best teams of Italy, of “Sbandieratori”. These teams engage themselves in a first simple round of flag waving and in a second elaborated and colourful one, until the best team is chosen. The best Florentine team of “Sbandieratori” is the “Bandierai degli Uffizi Fiorentini”, which is today known all over the world and has won many of these trophies.
One of the most exclusive and important representations of the significance of May and of
Spring in Florence is the Maggio Musicale Fiorentinofestival, which maintains, even though its characteristics are far more modern
today, the spirit and love for the arts.
Name: Festa di San Lorenzo
Description: It is the night of the falling stars... Every 10th of August, the Corteo Storico Fiorentino participates in the celebrations that take place inside the Church. Around the city there are guided visits to the different “laurenziane” structures.
Florence Area: Chiesa di San Lorenzo
Note: The Basilica di San Lorenzo, built in the IV century was considered since the beginning as a symbol of religious, civic and political power. It was dedicated to the martyr and Roman deacon, who died the 10th of August of the III century, it was controlled by the Florentine bishops and then by the historicMedici. Since the beginning it hosted the devotion of all the city’s authorities and people during the celebration of the anniversary of the death of the Saint.
The religious meaning of the falling stars and the realization of all dreams relates to San Lorenzo’s tears and pain.
Furthermore, the pagan aspect relates to the same two elements.
Name: Santa Reparata
Description: This celebration involves a solemn medieval ceremony at the ruins of the ancient cathedral and a race of twenty runners chosen among the players of each colour of the Calcio in Costume, preceded by the Corteo della Repubblica Fiorentina (Procession of the Republic of Florence, which goes from the Palagio di Parte Guelfa as far as the Duomo), and starts and ends in Piazza di San Giovanni.
Florence Area: Piazza Duomo (di San Giovanni)
Note: Another example of religious and civic celebration. The virgin and martyr Saint is celebrated because it is one of the first events concerning Christianity in Florence. During the times of the barbaric invasions, Florence was to be submitted to one by the Ostrogots, but the Romans succeeded in intervening and destroying the foreign army. The people attributed their victory to the divine intervention of Santa Reparata, an oriental Saint that Christians in Florence were devoted to. The victory of the Roman army was at the end of August, but then they decided to celebrate it from this moment on, on the 8th of October, the day dedicated to the saint. They built the first cathedral of Florence in her name.
Description: The Catholic Church celebrates the Three Kings because that is, according to the Bible, the day of their visit to Jesus. The popular and usual celebration in Italy is the Befana, the personification of a festivity of presents, like Christmas with Father Christmas. The Befana is a sort of witch, who leaves presents and lots of sweets and...charcoal inside big decorative stockings, usually hanging from the fireplace of every child’s home. Why charcoal? Because children never behave perfectly well... but we also remember some white charcoal, made of sugar, to mean that our behaviour hadn’t been that bad either...
Note: In the Oriental Church, the nativity of Christ wasn’t known, while in the Church of Rome it was already being celebrated on the 25th of December; for this reason, the first Church decided to celebrate the date of the christening of Jesus in Jordan, which was on the 6th of January. The Epiphany (from the ancient Greek “epifania”, which means “manifestation”) substituted a pagan one dedicated to the Sun. It is then clear that this religious event sets the beginning of a new year too, like Christmas. In Tuscan tradition, countrymen put their heads inside a hood and look up at the sky: if they see three stars (the Three Kings) they can celebrate with the best wine.
Description: Christmas has pagan origins (it was celebrated during the Winter solstice), but since the nativity of Jesus Christ it has been a primarily religious festivity. Christmas includes the Nativity itself, which is celebrated by a solemn Mass, either on the 25th of December or the night before, at midnight, with the representations of the Nativity with decorations and the less religious but certainly very traditional Christmas Tree, boasting varied and colourful decorations throughout the city and at home along with the visit of Santa Claus full of presents for children. The “cenone della Vigilia di Natale” (lit. “big dinner the night before Christmas”) is also part of the tradition: it reunites all members of the family, a complete but “poor” dinner is served, as an original symbol of purification, but also of the strength of love and friendship; this dinner anticipates the Mass.
Florence Area: Everywhere
Note: In Florence, especially in the countryside, Christmas is still considered the festivity around “il ceppo” (lit. “the Yule log”), which, according to an ancient tradition, was burnt until the beginning of the New Year, signifies a new life represented by the fire, and the negativity of the past year left behind represented by the burning log..
Name: Festa di San Giovanni
Description: The 24th of June, the day dedicated to Florence’s Patron Saint John, has been a day of big celebrations for many centuries. Today there are two main events, of which the second has a particular appeal for many people: the “Fuochi” (lit. “fires”, that is fireworks). The religious celebration is in the morning and consists of a symbolic offering of the candle (big, richly decorated candles) and chants addressed to the Patron Saint in the Baptistery by a procession composed of the city’s Mayor, the Armed Forces, representatives of the city districts and others, who, following the “Gonfalone di Firenze” (Gonfalon of Florence) first head for the Baptistery from Palazzo Vecchio and subsequently, together with the Archbishop of the city and the clergy, go to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and celebrate a solemn mass. The original pagan celebration consists of the “Fuochi”, which are an impressive explosion of lights and colours which originate in Piazzale Michelangelo, and sometimes also in Forte Belvedere. The spectacle lasts approximately one hour and has an incredible final “botto” (explosion). This celebration coincides with the finals of the “calcio storico”.
Forence Area: Please see above.
Note: Originally, the religious celebrations were more complex and chorographical and lasted more than one day and were completed with fairs of artisanship and two “palii” (plur. of “palio”, horse race): the “palio dei cocchi” (“...of the chariots”), which took place in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and the “palio dei berberi” (“...of the berberi”, a type of horses). They were then substituted by the finals of the “calcio in costume”. Saint John became Florence’s Patron Saint in ancient times, and the Baptistery was erected in his honour. The Festa di San Giovanni substitutes another pagan celebration related to the beginning of a new season with the Summer solstice. It therefore involved the rituals of purification and propitiations that were traditional at the beginning of each season. According to a popular tradition the “fuochi di San Giovanni” (“fires of Saint John”) can be seen in the countryside..., and witches were kept away by the ringing of the bells...
Description: The Ascension is celebrated by the “festa del grillo” (lit. “Festival of the cricket”); crickets (today they are mechanical, in order to preserve the real animals) are sold at the park Le Cascine in their traditional cages. Other items for animals are sold and different activities are organized for social issues. The date is in May, the first Sunday after the 40 days following Easter.
Florence Area: Le Cascine
Note: During Calendimaggio, boys used to give their fiancées flowers and a “chanting cricket” inside a small vegetable cage: crickets were considered good-luck pieces and protectors for the house.
Name: Sagre, Fiere e Feste Paesane
Description: These are village-feasts, festivals, fairs and particular celebrations which remind us of the original ancient traditions of celebrating the earth and special village events, especially at the beginning of a new season but also during the year. There are then “sagre” (feasts and festivals) of: “castagne” (chestnuts), “cinghiale” (wild boar), “bistecca”, “pesce” (fish, not many), “tartufo” and “tartufo bianco” (truffle and white truffle), “olio” (olive oil), “vino” (wine), “tortelli” (big raviolis), “zuppe” (different soups with bread), “pane” (bread), “patate” (potatoes), “pasta”, “fungo porcino” (“porcino mushroom), “fragole” (strawberries) and many others.... Feasts, festivals, etc. are usually accompanied by music and the sale of other products of the town.
Florence Area: They take place in all towns and villages around Florence
Note: For details look at posters and fliers displayed within Florence or on neighbouring streets and highways.
Name: La Fiorita
Description: Every 23rd of May a procession of Florentine civil, religious and administrative authorities go to the exact place where Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burnt, and, after the commemorative acts, rose petals and flowers are laid on the floor. After the ceremony, the procession goes to Ponte Vecchio, where rose petals are thrown on the Arno.
Florence Area: Piazza della Signoria and Ponte Vecchio.
Note: It is called “la fiorita” because many flowers of every kind were laid there from then on, after the frair’s death, on that same memorial stone on the day of his death. Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola had condemned the vanities, frivolousness and lust of Florentines by burning all the books he considered such during a Carnival festivity; he preached against corruption and gave messages of apocalyptic dimensions. He was then put on trial and condemned to death.
Name: Festa di Sant'Anna, protector of the Liberty of the city of Florence
Description: The 28th of July, a historic procession moves from Palazzo Vecchio towards the Duomo and ends in Orsanmichele, where traditional offerings are made and candles are blessed.
Florence Area: Orsanmichele, Piazza della Parte Guelfa.
Note: The 26th of July (the birth of Saint Anne) of 1343, Florentines rebelled against the foreign Gualtieri di Brienne, Duke of Athens, who controlled the city and finally he was thrown out of the city forever. This event marked the beginning of liberty for the Florentine people. Therefore, they dedicated this event to Saint Anne and she became the protector of Florence’s liberty and identity. Florentine authorities gave such importance to that day that it had to be celebrated like Easter. Celebrations took place in Orsanmichele. Many artistic representations of the Saint are housed in Orsanmichele and in several other places in as well as around Florence.