Cavalcata dei Magi – Epiphany in Florence

The Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th.  Epiphany marks the 12th day of Christmas when the three wise men (or magi) arrived at the manger bearing gifts for Baby Jesus and it is traditionally one of the most important holidays in Italy.  In Florence, the day is celebrated with the “Cavalcata dei Magi,” literally meaning the “Ride of the Three Kings.”  The parade starts in Palazzo Pitti, just south of the Arno River, and finishes in Piazza del Duomo, where the three wise men – riding in on horses – deliver their gifts to Jesus in the manger.  The parade is also accompanied by Florentines in medieval costumes, flag throwers, and a band.  This year, it is estimated over 700 people participated in the Cavalcata dei Magi to celebrate Epiphany.

While waiting for the Three Kings to arrive in front of the Duomo, we listened to a children’s choir comprised of 55 – 60 (mostly) young girls.  They sang Christmas songs in English, Italian, and Spanish.  We were impressed by their voices and it was a nice way to pass the time.

The children's choir

The children’s choir

The Christmas tree/decorations stay up at least through Jan. 6 to mark Epiphany

The Christmas tree/decorations stay up at least through Jan. 6 to mark Epiphany

It was a very festive day

It was a very festive day

The arrival of the first members of the parade bearing Florence's flag

The arrival of the first members of the parade bearing Florence’s flag

No Florentine parade is complete without the medieval costumes

No Florentine parade is complete without the medieval costumes

I love that the Italian men don't have a problem dressing in costume for a ceremony

I love that the Italian men don’t have a problem dressing in costume for a ceremony

Photos of many of the Florentines from the parade (this photo was taken from a local newspaper, as we didn't have quite as good of a view!)

Many of the Florentines in the parade (this photo was taken from a local newspaper, as we didn’t have quite as good of a view!)

The Three Kings leaving Palazzo Pitti (photo from newspaper)

The Three Kings leaving Palazzo Pitti (photo from newspaper)

Arriving in Piazza del Duomo (photo from newspaper)

Arriving in Piazza del Duomo (photo from newspaper); He is a very serious King!

This was my view of the King :(

This was my view of the King :(

Presenting their gifts in front of the crowd

Presenting their gifts in front of the crowd (photo from newspaper)

And finally lay their gifts before Baby Jesus in the manger (too bad you can't see the live cow or donkey!)

And finally lay their gifts before Baby Jesus in the manger (too bad you can’t see the live cow or donkey!)

Speaking of gifts, the Italian tradition of giving gifts is a little different.  Although some families have adopted the American way of giving gifts on Christmas or Christmas Eve, most families choose to follow the story of the Befana.  “La Befana” is a tale of a witch who arrives on her broomstick during the night of January 5 and fills the stockings with toys and sweets for the good children and lumps of coal for the bad ones.  According to the legend, the night before the Wise Men arrived at the manger, they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied that she was too busy.  Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Wise Men bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She got lost and never found the manger. Now the witch flies around on her broomstick each year on the 11th night, bringing gifts to children in hopes that she might find the Baby Jesus. Children hang their stockings on the evening of January 5 awaiting her visit.