Have you ever heard of the Italian holiday named Ferragosto?

Ferragosto is the most important summer holiday in Italy, celebrated on the 15th of August. But if you ask an Italian what they celebrate on that day, the answers could be different: an ancient Roman tradition, a religious holiday or the beginning of middle summer holidays. Somehow, they are all true.

Let’s find out why!

Its origins must be found in the pre-Christian times.

In 18 BC to be more specific, when the Emperor Augustus introduced this pagan festival: its current name, Ferragosto, comes from this ancient holiday, which was named Feriae Augusti in his honor.

The festival celebrated the end of the harvest and played an essential role in peasants’ life, because it was a time when they could take a break from the fields and from the intense agricultural labour. During the celebrations, they would decorate beasts (such as donkeys and mules) with flowers after releasing them from their work duties.

Also, horse races were organised all over the Empire and, quite interestingly, they are still alive today! Every 16th of August, the most popular national horse race, the Palio di Siena, takes place in Tuscany and attracts hundreds of tourists.

The arrival of Christianity gave a completely new significance to the 15th of August. How?

Christians instituted The Assumption of the Virgin Mary on this day, in the belief that in August 15th God assumed the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her life.

In a more recent past, the Fascist regime (which governed in Italy during the 1920s) added a new shade of meaning to this festival by organising the so-called People’s Trains of Ferragosto. They were cheap trips offered by the government to less wealthy citizens: this initiative allowed all the families to enjoy beaches, mountains and places they had never seen before.

Now the question is… what is it like to spend Ferragosto in Italy today?

For the most traditional people, Ferragosto means big family reunions or a typical scampagnata (picnic) with good food (bruschette, olive oil, cheese and more), enjoying the company of the beloved ones in the beautiful surrounding countryside.

Besides, religious processions of people carrying the statue of the Virgin Mary are a common habit.

But even party people have their options: parties with live-music and final fireworks take place in most of the Italian beaches all over the night.

Have a look at some nice pictures about Ferragosto on our Pinterest board! And if you want to read more about other Italian celebrations, follow this link.

Giovanni Nuccio