The Epiphany – the day the three kings recognized Jesus as the newly born Messiah, bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh – is celebrated on January 6th, 12 days after Christmas (which is where we get “The 12 Days of Christmas”!). In Florence, it’s celebrated with the “Cavalcade of the Magi”, a parade spanning from Palazzo Pitti to Piazza Duomo and back again.
It was around lunchtime on January 6th of last year when I walked into Piazza Duomo to see a live nativity set up under the large Christmas tree that had been in front of the cathedral all week. Mary, Joseph and the baby were all there – there were even livestock behind the manger!
In front of the live nativity, a large group was assembled, dressed in grand costumes like they had just stepped out of a Renaissance fair: lord and ladies, flag bearers, knights, drummers, country folk – you name it. I tried to get a good look at what was going on – I walked around trying to find a good position in the crowd – but eventually walked on.
I knew what I was missing: every year people from all over Tuscany come to take part in the Cavalcade on the Magi. It’s a parade that reenacts the three kings coming to Jesus in the manger an presenting him with gifts. It starts in Piazza Pitti, in front of the Pitti Palace and proceeds across Ponte Vecchio over to Piazza Signoria (where the flag-throwers show off a bit) before winding up in Piazza Duomo, in front of the manger, where the magi do their thing. It began in 1417 and at that time was only held every 3-5 years. The men of the Medici family seem to have played a big part in it, and perhaps for that reason it was stopped in 1494 when the Medici were expelled from Florence. In 1997, though, Florence picked up the tradition again during celebrations of the 7th centennial of the cathedral.
I went on my merry way, figuring I had missed the action. I had no idea that the parade would travel back across Ponte Vecchio…
I had spent the afternoon on the other side of the Arno and was making my way back through the (unexpectedly thick) crowd approaching Ponte Vecchio when I heard it: drums. Horns. Marching.
And there it was! Perhaps even more spectacular with the lights that draped the street from one side to the other, illuminating the parade as it proceeded back toward Piazza Pitti.
It was my last night in Italy during that trip, and the perfect send-off If you’re in Florence today, be sure not to miss it!