Hey guys, there are only 3 days to go for the great great great Italian’s Ferragosto (every 15th August). Deeply in my short summer memories in Italy, Ferragosto is a word Italians show both excitement and frustration on their faces. Because this is the best period for family and long-distance vacation, however, everyone knows it and does it.
I’ve spent a couple of summers with Luigi’s family and believe me, Ferragosto is also one of the few biggest cheap days in a year. I feel I eat a full week’s food in a night! So, what is Ferragosto meaning exactly? Is it an Italian thing only? Why the Italians talk Ferragosto so seriously? All in all, what exactly we do for Ferragosto, therefore you can do too?
Ferragosto comes with three important personnel in our human history. It hits history, religion, and politics. Like many interesting Italian-turned-to-be-international vocabularies (think about Aperitivo and coffee). Ferragosto's meaning is simplified to "vacation" nowadays, but it has much more to tell.
Ferragosto's meaning comes with Caesar Octavian, or you can call him "Augustus".
The word, Ferragosto, can be divided into “Ferra” and “Agosto” which are matching with the two Latin words, “Feriae” and “Augusti”. Feriae Augusti was the most beloved celebration and festival date created by Emperor Augustus, to politically reinforce his victory at the battle to his Romans, and to officially offer a holiday to his people. His people, that time, includes not only Roman citizens but also all slavers and even animals.
Augustus’s Ferragosto was on 1st August initially. This day, no one works. No animal works (in the land). The working class or even a slave can greet their masters in return for a decent tip. Augustus made this day more profound with the beloved horse racing and public events. The influence? Nowadays, you can still watch Siena’s Palio (the second round of the yearly horsing racing) on 16th August every year.
Ferragosto's meaning comes with Mary. Not that Mary on an elementary school English textbook, but the Virgin Mary.
The leader role of the human’s history was passed from Roman Emperors and Senates to the Popes. But the leaders were not able to change their people. Augustus’s Ferragosto is a no-way-back. The Church moved it to 15th August and gave it a second meaning to the religious world. Now, we know it as “Assumption of Mary” – the day when Mary goes to heaven.
Ferragosto's meaning comes with Musollini, AKA. Italian's fascism time.
In the second half of the 1920s, the Italian fascism government created the “Ferragosto train for people” which means a collection of popular holiday train routes throughout the whole of Italy (normally from north to south) with the unbeatable prices on 13th, 14th and 15th of August. The goal was to encourage the lower-class to get out, to explore, and to enjoy Italian’s beautiful seaside and mountains.
You probably want to complain about why the Italian government failed to keep this big deal! Well, keep on reading, then you will know this travel-encouraging-campaign has once become too big that it got cut short.
What the italians do on ferragosto now?
The Italians, now, combine their ancestor’s pride, their god’s endorsement, and the reinforcement by their once-a-great-leader. Ferragosto becomes one of the most important dates or periods for a family to unite and celebrate, or for them to take a summer vacation. Many public events based on history or not, culture or not, are held around Ferragosto, for example, Siena’s Palio and even the wine festival of Montefiascone. Family gathering with a garden dinner is the most common Ferragosto activity for an Italian family. And, yes, I and Luigi are going for it in 3 days.
Vacation is another big topic related to Ferragosto, however, I want to talk about Italian companies. I work with them, especially those in the agricultural sector. Every year’s Ferragosto or the whole of August (thanks to “Augustus”) means all factories close for at least one week, normally two weeks, commonly the whole month with an after-car-crash-recovery kind of back-to-work. Remember I just mentioned Ferragosto’s modern version was cut short? Because the government cannot allow a zero-GDP for a month. So, they say, “Let’s go back to work in August. One-week holiday in that month is enough“. If you are visiting Italy in the mid-August period, don’t feel unbelievable if your pinned restaurant or boutique shop is closed for the whole period that you gonna stay in Italy.
Coming to the last question, what we can do on Italian's Ferragosto, no matter we are in Italy or not?
First, if you are on a budget, I suggest not to visit popular places in Italy. Because you know 90% of Italy’s population is competing with you.
Instead, some off-the-beaten-road places are good to explore. For example, if you are going to Sicily, try Trapani region instead of Agrigento, explore the hidden beaches near the area instead of Taormina. There are plenty of beautiful regions in Italy like Treviso. Or, if you are not in Italy, adopt their affection to the “family”. Make a family gathering or organize a home party with your friends. Some chilled wine, some nice food, and a lot of good music and happy people, are all that Ferragosto was initially created for.
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