The middle of August is a grand time for Italian vacations and commemorations as several festivals occur during this month. Ferragosto occurs on August 15 and for many Italians it is considered the peak of the vacation season for those ready to unwind before summer ends. As with most Italian festivals, Ferragosto is celebrated with food, fireworks and musical performances and depending on which summertime festival one visits, numerous activities can be enjoyed.
It is said that Ferragosto originally began several centuries ago in Rome, the very first celebration of Ferragosto occurring under the rule of Roman emperor Caesar Augustus to honor his recent war victory over his rival. More recently, the Assumption of Mary became associated with this day as well. For the Catholic population of Italy, the Assumption is a day commemorating the Virgin Mary’s assumption into heaven. The Assumption was moved to the 15th to overshadow the older pagan holiday, but both celebrations are still honored today, albeit differently than the original celebrations centuries before.
Ferragosto can be celebrated in varying ways in the modern era. It is not seen as one celebration, but rather many. Along with Ferragosto, several other festivals take their roots in mid-August including the well-known Palio di Siena, an annual Italian horserace that also occurs in July. This made August Italy’s best-known month for festivities and celebrations.
Depending on which Ferragosto festival one attends, the holiday can be honored in a variety of fun ways. For example, live dancing takes place in Rome, intense races are in the bustling city of Sassari and an enormous fireworks display is in the coastal region of Liguria. The mid-August festivals are numerous, and an Italian resident can use their work-free summer to either attend these celebrations or relax. Not only do people get the day off, but there is also a Ferragosto tradition in which working animals such as horses and livestock are dressed in flowers and allowed to rest for a day as well. Although these work-free celebrations used to last for close to an entire month in older times, the Ferragosto celebration now only takes place on one day.
As September draws closer, Italy’s festivals and celebrations will take a back seat to work and school. Although the festivities end, the promise of next year’s summertime merriment keeps everyone motivated for an even bigger and grander Ferragosto. But for now, enjoy the summer, and enjoy Ferragosto!