Ferragosto – Where does this tradition come from?
The word “ferragosto” derived from the name of the festivals that the Emperor Augustus introduced in the Roman Empire in 18 BCE, called Feriae Augusti.
The purpose of this festival was to create a prolonged period of rest for the workforce after the first major harvest that happened around the 1st of August. Upon the arrival of Catholicism, Ferragosto was moved along with the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – the day when Catholics believe Mary ascended to heaven “body and soul” after the end of her life on earth. This was done with many other pagan holidays as well.
The popular tradition surrounding ferragosto arose under the fascist regime in the 1920s. Cheap promotional trips were made available in mid August from the 13th to the 15th of August to give the less well-off classes the opportunity to travel. People would pack food and bring it with them, which explains why it is still a tradition today to picnic on Ferragosto.
People working in tourism know that all the hotels and resorts all over the world are filled with Italians during the month of August. This pseudo-religious, pseudo-pagan festivity is still relevant to this day and symbolizes the semi-official start of Italian holiday season!
What is the connection with the Palio di Siena?
During the celebrations of the Feriae Augusti, horse races were organized across the empire. Such traditions are still alive today! Still today, Siena hosts the Palio Dell’Assunta on the 16th of August, which involves horse chariots racing around the main square of the city. In fact, the name Palio comes from the Latin “Pallium”, which is a precious fabric given as a prize to the winners of the horse races in Ancient Rome.
Why is everything shut down?
As any other public holiday, ferragosto means total shutdown, even in major towns and cities, with everything from public transport to post offices closed. You will often see signs up with “Chiuso Per Ferie” written all over them. However, unlike many other bank holidays, on ferragosto many museums and cultural sites remain open. But even though it seems like there isn’t much left to do, there are still plenty of activities for you! Rome organizes an event called the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto – with dancing and live music. More and more cities are beginning to launch their own events.
Why should I not go for a swim on Ferragosto?
It’s August, for God’s sake! Why should we not enjoy a dip in the fresh sea? Especially in the south of Italy, which is very traditional and attached to religious beliefs, it is thought that, every year, on the 15th of August, the sea takes someone with them. As a result, all the grandmother’s prohibit their children and grandchildren from going to the beach! The theological reasoning behind it is that, since antiquity, Mary and the sea have always been tied together and, because she “leaves the earth” on that specific day, it makes sense to believe that anyone breaking the rules by entering the water could be taken away as well. So be aware of the waves on Ferragosto!