Ferragosto, The long Italian Summer
Living in Italy, there’s a saying that is jokingly said to each other, “better not get sick in August” alluding to the fact that pretty much most of Italy shuts down or is run with very limited hours from about the first week of August to the end of August. All the family members that once left Southern Italy for better opportunities in the cities up North, pack their cars with summer attire, beach chairs and sunscreen and start the drive down to the beautiful & pristine beach towns of the Southern coast, or they might take this opportunity to leave the country and visit friends or even a new part of the world. One thing is for sure, visiting some parts of Italy Mid-August might feel like you are walking through a “ghost” town.
You might have heard the term Ferragosto before in your travels to or in literature about Italy. The literal meaning is translated from Latin to mean “Holiday of Augustus” but now is loosely used as a term to indicate “Vacation”. This holiday is celebrated on the 15th of August in all of Italy and dates back to the era of Augustus circa 18 B.C.E, was highly recognized in the time of Mussolini and is still ever so present today. However, nowadays, most Northern parts of Italy, realizing how detrimental a whole month off can be to some businesses, might split their vacation days for their employees giving one group a few weeks and another group a few weeks to keep their operation up and running. The Southern beach towns also recognize the prosperity of the tourism in the months of July and August and so for the most part are still open and other than a few hours a day taken to have lunch at home and get a little rest, they are open from morning serving café’ e cornetto (coffee and croissants) to 2 AM serving cocktails and late night dinner as vacationers take long passeggiate (walks) on the boardwalks.
Originally named Feriae Augusti to mean festival of Augustus, Ferragosto still symbolizes a period of rest from the hard labor of the year. It is a time to reflect on what was accomplished and perhaps lay out goals for the next year all while sitting on a beach or expanding your travel repertoire. During the period of Fascism, under the rule of Mussolini, trains would be offered at discounted prices allowing all persons, no matter their social status, to take a trip and leave the town, at a much more affordable rate. Appropriately, the trains were known as “The People’s Trains of Ferragosto”.
The month of August is known for a plethora of festivals all over Italy and on August 15th not only do most people have the day off and is the official day to celebrate Ferragosto (because this could quite literally be celebrated all month long) but it also coincides with the Catholic religious holiday of The Feast of the Assumption therefore it is a day of obligation and many festivals surround this holiday with an abundance of food, carnivals and fireworks. Some choose to BBQ and picnic high in the mountains for reprieve from the heat while others flock to the beach ending the day with a celebratory bonfire and also stargazing on or right around the 15th of August has become particularly popular lately as these dates also coincide with one of the brightest meteor showers of the year, the Perseids. Seems to me even the stars shine a bit brighter in light of the celebrations…..
To be in Italy in August is to truly be able to catch a glimpse of the true meaning of being Italian. Not afraid of hard labor, Italians are known to put in long and grueling hours, sometimes in unbearable heat, to make sure that their crops, vineyards, store fronts and businesses are running smoothly. But when it is time for celebrations and family, they put that all aside and really focus on a time to regroup, refresh and relax. We at Baratti & Milano hope that, after a year of unknowns and turmoil, we may all find some time this summer to truly embody the Italian way of life and take some time to enjoy our surroundings and those we hold most dear.
From all of our Baratti & Milano Team, Buon Ferragosto!
Sources: Wikipedia, Italymagazine.com, timeanddate.com