March 25, the Traditional Florentine New Year

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

The traditional Florentine New Year has been always celebrated on the date of the feast of the Annunciation, March 25.  Following time-honored custom, from the years 1250 to 1750, Florentines would gather on that date in piazza Santissima Annunziata. They welcomed the arrival of spring as well as commemorating the anniversary of the Annunciation, or the conversation between Gabriel and Mary when the angel shared with Mary the news of her divine pregnancy, exactly nine months before Christmas.  When the Gregorian calendar was implemented in 1541 by Pope Gregory XIII in a papal decree, the city refused to adopt both the calendar and the official New Year. It wasn’t until 208 years later, in 1749, that Grand Duke Francesco I of Lorraine imposed a city-wide law to observe the New Year on January 1. The city re-commenced to mark the observance of March 25 as Florentine New Year in 2000 on annual basis, with the exception of 2020 due to the Coronavirus health emergency.

Located in the church of the Santissima Annunizata, a medieval fresco of the Annunciation was once the centerpiece of Florentine New Year festivities.  The art piece can still be viewed on the inner wall to the left of the entrance.  Legend holds, that, in 1252, while an artist named Bartolomeo was painting a fresco of the scene of the Annunciation on the left wall closest to the entrance, he fell asleep with only Virgin Mary’s face still to finish. When he awoke, her face was done. It is believed that angels did the work for the artist, representing a miracle for the church, and the city.

Equally famous is the early Renaissance artist Fra Angelico’s depiction of the Annunciation (pictured) in the nearby ex-monastery and current museum of San Marco.