|Annunciation by Beato Angelico|
In Florence, the feast coincided nicely with the arrival of spring, to which a local proverb was dedicated: ‘Per l'Annunciazione la rondine è arrivata; e se un'né arrivata, l'è per strada o è ammalata!' (‘The swallow arrives for the Annunciation; and if he hasn't yet arrived, he's either on the way or he's sick!'). When, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII changed the date of the New Year to January 1, the majority of European countries and Italian city-states adopted the calendar that we still use today. The Florentines, however, were so attached to ‘their' New Year that they waited until January 1, 1750 to adopt the Gregorian calendar.
Why was the Annunciation such a special holiday in Florence? For starters, the Madonna is the protector of the city (not to be confused with Saint John the Baptist who is the city's patron saint), so her feast days were held in special regard. Additionally, the Annunciation was an exciting civil, religious and springtime festival that brought huge crowds from the city and the surrounding countryside into Florence. Everyone from nobles to lawmakers, shopkeepers, priests and farmers would gather in Piazza Santissima Annunziata to pay homage to the miraculous image of the Madonna housed in basilica dedicated to the Most Holy Annunciation (Santissima Annuziata). Built in 1250 by friars from the order of the Servi di Maria, the structure was continuously enlarged and beautified throughout the centuries.
|Piazza Santissima Annunziata|
During the Feast of the Annunciation, hundreds of pilgrims would spill out of the basilica and onto the portico of the adjacent Spedale degli Innocenti and Confraternita dei Servi di Maria, which flanked the church and together created three sides of one Florence's most beautiful piazzas. March 25 was a citywide holiday and locals would gather along the city streets to watch the clergy and magistrates walk in solemn procession to the basilica, where they would make offerings to the Virgin Mary in return for her protection and for favors granted.
The city recognized the need to provide food, drinks and other necessities to the vast number of pilgrims who flooded the area on the holy day. In addition to stands boasting traditional straw baskets filled with usual fair goods, candles, flowers and votives were also sold. The atmosphere was so spring-like and festive-and one can't help but think good for local business as well-it's no wonder Florentines opted to continue celebrating New Year's Day on March 25 until the late eighteenth century.
|Sbandieratori in Piazza della Signoria|
(Originally published by Alexandra Lawrence