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What Is Ferragosto And Why Is It Celebrated?

August 13th, 2020 by Roberta Bianchi

Summer is the best time of the year for many, and August 15 is the best day of the summer for Italians. On this day, families and friends gather to celebrate Ferragosto, a holiday that has been celebrated for centuries. But what is Ferragosto and why is it celebrated? 

What Is Ferragosto And Why Is It Celebrated? 0

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What is Ferragosto? - The Origins

Ferragosto is an ancient holiday that dates back to 18 BC, when the Feriae Augusti were established by the Roman emperor Octavian Augustus. These Feriae were added to other celebration days for the end of the tiring agricultural period.

Granting an extension of the pre-existing holidays to workers, Ferragosto originally had a clear political and promotional purpose for the Emperor. In fact, in the month of August, Romans already had several days of rest, each in honor of divinity: the Vinalia Rustica for Jupiter and Venus, the Nemoralia for the goddess Diana and the Consulalia, which took the name from the god Conso.

The celebrations didn’t last for just one day: they began on August 1st and continued almost till the end of the month.  

Why Was Ferragosto So Popular? - The Celebrations 

The Feriae Augusti were celebrated in grand style - like all Roman celebrations - with horse and donkey carts, sport competitions, banquets and games. 

In addition to the rest for the workers and the celebrations, there were other activities that made this period extremely popular: it was a Roman custom that workers thanked their bosses to receive a special tip.  

The latter tradition was maintained until the Renaissance, which contributed to Ferragosto being a long-awaited holiday for all workers. 

Why is it still celebrated today?

The Ferragosto tradition seemed to come to an end when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, but around the seventh century, the Church made the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary coincide with the pagan feast, choosing the same date: August 15th. 

It is not the first time that a pagan festival is assimilated into the Christian tradition: for example, it is worth remembering the case of the Christmas holidays, which fall on the same day as the pagan holidays dedicated to the Sun.

In this way, the Ferragosto tradition has been preserved until today, maintaining its character as a summer day of rest for workers. Interestingly enough, the Christian holiday was officially recognized by the Catholic Church only from 1950. 

During the 20th century, Mussolini decided to bring back the secular tradition, dedicating a set of trains to the Ferragosto holiday to let workers have a special day of rest and travel. Thus, he contributed to the institution of a new tradition- the Ferragosto escape- a great excuse for people to take a short trip to celebrate. 

Tips for a perfect August 15th

The perfect way to celebrate Ferragosto is with a BBQ with friends and family. The times are not right for large gatherings yet, but if you are lucky enough to have a garden or a backyard, here’s a handy grocery list you can use to prepare- or better yet, give it to your Prontopia local assistant to shop for you!

Ferragosto BBQ:

  • Steaks

  • Hamburgers

  • Sausages

  • Veggie burgers or vegetarian friendly options

  • Bread

  • Onions

  • Pickles

  • Salad

  • Tomatoes

  • Zucchini and Aubergines for grilling

  • Corn

  • Sauces: mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce

  • Beer and wine

  • Soft drinks

  • Re-useable containers for leftovers 

While you’re enjoying your BBQ, be sure to toast the ancient Romans that had the good sense to take time off in the summer and the rest of us for continuing the tradition.

We’re here for you- even on Ferragosto. Don't let errands ruin your vacation, leave the burden of the most demanding errands to us!

©Photo: Photo by Kimson Doan

Roberta Bianchi

Roman living in Venice. Plant lover, avid reader and seasonal yogi

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