Ferragosto has just gone and summer has a different feeling now.
But “what is Ferragosto?”, you may ask. What is this weird holiday that makes Italy stop and basically close down in the middle of summer? Why Italians love this day so much? Well, let me try to explain that to you.
First of all, some historical facts. Ferragosto is a very ancient holiday. It takes its name from the Latin Feriae Augusti, which was a holiday established by Emperor Augustus in 18 b.c. to celebrate the end of work in the fields. It was definitely a time to rest and relax after the hard work in the crops in the middle of summer.
Celebrations lasted more than just one day and they included horse races and parades where all the animals commonly used in the fields – oxen, mules and so on – were spared from work for a day and were adorned with flowers and garlands. Those were days of feasting and gratitude and masters used to thank their workers by giving them a sum of money.
Feriae Augusti originally fell at the beginning of August, but the Roman Church decided to move it to August 15th to make it coincide with the Assumption of Mary, a major feast day for the Catholics. As a matter of fact, Ferragosto is also known as il giorno dell’Assunta (the day of the Assumption) and many towns celebrate it as their patron saint day as well.
One of the most common things to do in Italy at Ferragosto is to go somewhere, to do something – be it a proper holiday or just go away for a day trip. This habit was introduced by the Fascist regime. As a matter of fact, beginning in the early 20s, the Fascist government organized discounted trips at Ferragosto to give workers the opportunity to relax and visit some places they had never seen before.
This habit of taking a few days off at Ferragosto is still deeply rooted in the Italian culture and it is really strange for an Italian to be working at Ferragosto – unless you work in tourism or emergency services, of course. Well, let’s say that Ferragosto is a bit like Christmas in summer, when it comes to work-related matters.
Actually, until the 80s and 90s, it was the whole month of August to be shut down for the holidays. Big automotive companies like Fiat and Alfa Romeo closed for the holidays for most of August and people would flee the big cities to either go on holiday somewhere or return home in the south (many workers in the north of Italy were originally from the south of the country).
This habit kind of faded over the years but it is still very common for big and small companies to close for the two weeks around Ferragosto. If you go to a big city and stay outside of the popular tourist spots, you will surely find it quite deserted these days. Most shops are closed, public offices apply summer opening times and everything work-related just happens “dopo Ferragosto” (after Ferragosto).
But what people do exactly do at Ferragosto?
Nothing, I would say. Well, this is not exactly true, to be honest. People are quite busy on such day. One of the most common things to do at Ferragosto is una grigliata (a barbecue): either with friends or family, people find a spot in the countryside – be it an old house of a family member or a picnic area – and start barbecuing as if there is no tomorrow.
For example, the tradition in my family is to go to my grandmother’s house, up in the hills in Piedmont, and spend the day there sitting outside by the vegetable garden and eat basically all day. My mother starts planning the menu by mid-July and there’s always so much food that leftovers last for days. Usually, my father grills meat, fish or vegetables, while my mom prepares vegetable pies and all kind of other vegetable side dishes: it’s the peak of summer and we use all the produce of the vegetable garden.
If you don’t spend your Ferragosto at a barbecue, you might find yourself at the beach. Since it is so common to have a barbecue or take a day trip at Ferragosto, August 15th might not be one of the crowdest days at the beach. But if you’re there you have to be prepared because one of the traditions is fare i gavettoni, which means to fill balloons with water and then throw them at each other in epic fights.
As I said before, August 15th is the day of the Assumption of Mary, which means that it is celebrated as a religious feast in many towns and cities. This means that there might be parades during the day and fireworks at night. No matter where you find yourself in Italy at Ferragosto, I am sure there’ll be something going on. Even the day after Ferragosto is an important one: it’s San Rocco, the Patron Saint of many small towns in Italy – which means more celebrating!
If you want to get the feeling of Ferragosto, I totally recommend you watch the movie Pranzo di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch), which not only is a great Italian movie but also gives you an idea of how Ferragosto is, here in Italy. In case you are interested, you’ll find more about it a post about my favorite Italian movies I have written a while ago.
What about you? Do you celebrate August 15th in your country or do you have something similar?
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!