Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Epifania e La Cavalcata dei Magi

January 6th marks the 12th day of Christmas, otherwise known as Epiphany.  In Florence, this holiday (yes, it is a national holiday in Italy!) is celebrated with an amazingly HUGE historical parade called La Cavalcata dei Magi, the Cavalcade of the Magi, which recalls the arrival of the Magi (or the 3 Wise Men) visiting the infant Jesus. This grand parade was resurrected in 1997 during the 700th anniversary of the laying of the foundation of the Duomo.  The parade first appeared in the early 1400's (the earliest written evidence of this was in 1417) and ran every 3 years (every 5 years after 1447).  Today, it runs every year, so you can plan to see the parade if you happen to be in town this time of the year.



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The parade route begins at Palazzo Pitti, continues up Via Guicciardini, crosses the Arno River via the Ponte Vecchio, then winds around a bit before finally ending in Piazza del Duomo.  There is a live nativity at a little stable next to the front of the church (which contains a large presepe - nativity scene - of terra cotta figures throughout the Christmas season), and this is where the "magi" end their procession through town and finally present the baby Jesus with their gifts.  Live animals are present, usually fenced in next to the stable.

An adorable lamb being shown before the parade arrives at the Duomo

Miniature horse being shown to the crowd awaiting the parade's arrival
In front of the Duomo, on the steps, is where the dignitaries sit.  Both church and government officials view the parade together from this vantage point.  Some speak to those gathered prior to and after the parade.  A children's choir sings from the steps before the parade arrives.

A children's choir performs for the crowd
Over 500 people from Florence and across Tuscany participate in the parade, all of which are in historical costume.  Musicians, sbandieratori (flag bearers), and representatives from towns across the province of Florence take part in the procession.

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2 of the 3 Magi
Another participant in the parade is Befana!  Befana is the traditional Epiphany figure in Italy.  She is depicted as an old woman with a broom, much like a witch.  Tradition is that she flies around on her broomstick and visits children at night, leaving good little boys and girls candy, sweets and small toys.  Bad children are given coal.  The story goes that Befana was an old woman who was approached by the Magi when they were on their way to find the Christ child.  She provided them with directions and shelter for the night, but did not accompany them on their journey due to having "too much housework" to do.  Of course, later, she regretted her decision and changed her mind, so she went off on her own to try to find the Magi and the baby Jesus, but could not find them.  So, to this day she wanders around searching still.

Befana arrives!
After everyone arrives at the Piazza, singing and cheering on of city pride commences and then finally balloons are released into the air, concluding the festivities.


Witnessing the Cavalcata is a lot of fun.  It can get a bit chilly standing on the stones, so if you go, I suggest wearing warm socks under your shoes!  My toes were like ice last year when we went!  

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, thank you so much for telling us about this. Dario and I will try to check it out for sure!!!

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