The feast of St. John the Baptist is a Christian anniversary celebrated in many European countries on 24th June. The most common custom, which has its origins in the pagan rites of celebrating the summer solstice, is to light large bonfires. According to popular beliefs of those times, these rites would have given strength to the Sun, which, starting from the day of the solstice, would have weakened, making the days progressively shorter until the arrival of winter.
In some Italian cities, where St. John is the patron saint, the anniversary is particularly felt. In Turin, for example, the celebrations begin in the late afternoon of June 23 with a parade in period costumes. About a thousand people walk through the streets of the center wearing beautiful clothes and remembering the rich historical past of the Piedmontese capital. At the end of the parade, everyone gathers in Piazza Castello, where a large bonfire is lit. On the top of the pyre the silhouette of a bull (the symbol of the city) is hoisted, destined to fall at the end of the combustion. Everyone eagerly awaits to see the direction of the bull's fall: according to tradition, in fact, if it falls towards the Porta Nuova station, the following year will be propitious; otherwise ominous. The most loved event by the Turinese, however, remains the wonderful fireworks display held on the Po river on the night of June 24th.
Florence has also celebrated its San Giovanni since the Middle Ages. Even today, on the morning of June 24, a small procession, which also includes the Mayor and other authorities, leaves from Palazzo Vecchio, following the banner, and heads towards the Baptistery, bringing candles as a gift to the patron saint, as the lords of the city. On the same day, the Tower of San Niccolò, one of the towers of the ancient city walls of Florence, is reopened to the public, and the final of the historic Florentine football is played, an exciting game born in the sixteenth century. The day ends with a great fireworks display, which is exploded from Piazzale Michelangelo so that they can be admired from different parts of the city.
Even in Milazzo, in Sicily, it is possible to witness magnificent fireworks over the sea. The show is preceded by the parade of the eighteenth-century statue of the saint, followed by a procession of devotees, through the streets of the city. The event takes place on June 24 only if it falls on a Sunday, otherwise it is postponed to the following Sunday.
In Aci Trezza, in addition to the procession of the saint and the fireworks display, U pisci a mari has been held since 1750, a parody of swordfish fishing that was formerly practiced in the Strait of Messina.
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