Today was the Epiphany national holiday in Italy, also known as the 12th day of Christmas. It is a celebration of the adoration of the Magi, as the Christian (and here in Italy, predominantly Catholic) realization that Jesus was the incarnation of the son of God. In Florence, the celebration involves a long, grand parade in magnificent costumes which evokes the arrival of the three wise men to the town of Bethlehem in search of the Messiah.
The celebration goes back centuries to the year 1417, when the parade was repeated every 3 or 5 years, and at one time even the male members of the Medici family took part in it. For this reason, it seems the celebration was stopped in 1494 when the Medici family was expelled from Florence. The celebration was resurrected in 1997 during the celebrations of the 7th centennial of the cathedral.
In relation to this, there is the tradition of La Befana, which I find interesting. http://www.italyheritage.com/traditions/christmas/befana.htm
For Italians, La Festa dell’Epifania on January 6th is as significant a holiday as Christmas Day; especially for Italian children! According to the story, the four figures’ fates were intertwined when the Magi happened upon La Befana early on during their quest. She charitably hosted them for an evening in her humble but cozy cottage; the next morning, they invited her to accompany them to Bethlehem. Busy cleaning her home, La Befana declined at first – but then, after they carried on their way – she had second thoughts. She quickly filled a basket with gifts for the baby Jesus and set off alone. Although she followed the same star, she was unable to find the manger before the Wise Men did on January 6, the Epiphany. Therefore, she instead leaves gifts for other children. Italian children leave out their shoes or put up stockings for the Befana to fill on January 5th, Epiphany Eve.
And so every Epiphany Eve, the old, tattered and soot-covered Befana flies around the world on a broomstick and comes down chimneys to deliver candy and presents to children who have been good during the year. For those who have fallen a bit short of model behavior, la Befana will leave lumps of coal. Being a good housekeeper, however, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. Unlike Santa Claus, La Befana has been an Italian tradition since the XIII century and comes from Christian legend rather than pop culture.
I got a nice view of the parade… and was rather amused by people watching across the way, while finding myself a little annoyed by the ones super close by… selfie sticks. Arg. Would love to destroy them all. Ha… overall, a nice holiday.