For centuries, March 25th was "Florence's January 1st", the beginning of the New Year. The date was traditionally used in liturgical calendars and thus spilling over to "civic" use placing the Annunciation as the first day of the year.
According to oral tradition and the medieval manifest the Golden Legend, the first written account of the lives of the Saints by the Genovese Bishop Jacopo da Voragine, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary her chosen role as the Mother of Jesus on Friday, March 25th at noon (nine months before Christmas day) while Mary was piously reading the Book of Isaiah that prophesizes the conception of Jesus, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
This important liturgical feast day then acted for many centuries as the beginning of the New Year, however by the sixteenth century even the Church was striving to gain a better understanding of the tropical calendar and the seasons for the "placement" of Easter. It was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 who was driven to update the calendar to create a "universal" placement of Easter which was not celebrated on the same date by all Christian communities and approved the calendar as we know it today.
The placement of Easter for the Eastern church was based on the vernal equinox using March 21st as the first day of Spring and calculating Easter from that date. However, Rome holding on to the medieval tradition of the Annunciation as the great feast of Mary's "fertility" used March 25th as the first day of spring.
The new "Gregorian" calendar reorganized the problematic leap day, accepted the placement of the seasons on the 21st of the respective months (March, June, September and December) reaffirmed the New Year as January 1st from the Roman Julian calendar and tackled the lofty task of adjusting what was an eleven day gap leftover from incorrect solar calculations.
Though controversial and somewhat radical, where the calendar literally jumped 11 days in October of 1582, most countries began the transition by the end of that year. By 1600, most of Europe begrudgingly "lost eleven days" and converted to the Gregorian calendar.
But not Florence...
Despite its close proximity to Rome, Florence rejected the "conversion" for almost two centuries. While Spain, Portugal and even the territory that was then Poland (and many other countries) were celebrating their "winter" New Year's Eve parties - there was Florence frolicking in March with the first signs of Primavera.
Florence continued this celebration of the Blessed Mother's fertility, the feast day to Mary as the Patroness of the City with its Cathedral named in her honor Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of Florence), dedicated an entire Church and Piazza in honor of the date - the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata and rang in the new year with this fresh new beginning - on March 25th - until 1750... 168 years later!
Today, Florentines flock to the holy Sanctuary and Basilica of Santissima Annunziata to dedicate prayers to Mary - often young brides with prayerful hopes of Motherhood - and then turn to the pagan Piazza to enjoy the outdoor market filled with food booths offering everything from cotton candy to fresh honey to products like linens and wooden kitchen utensils. Enjoy the "Capo danno Fiorentino" - visit the Piazza Santissima Annunziata today!