15 Aug 2009

Ferragosto, August 15th, is a very popular holiday in Italy. It is a religious holiday celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the most popular day for a “gita fuori porta”, a daytrip to the beach or to the mountains.

Ferragosto: a very Italian holiday

Ferragosto, August 15th, is a very popular holiday in Italy. Even though most people consider it just a day off on which you have to do something special, Ferragosto is in fact a religious holiday. The Catholic Church commemorates the “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary“, that is the real physical elevation of her body into Heaven.

Ferragosto, though, has much more ancient origins. As in the case of most of the other big religious holidays, the Roman Church has replaced ancient pagan holidays with a Catholic “Holy Day of Obligation”, that is a day that commemorates some important dogma or religious event.

Ferragosto marks the end of the hardest time of the year as far as work in the fields goes, after the crops have been harvested and the land has been ploughed again. The Romans celebrated the Goddess Diana and the cycle of fertility and ripening throughout the month of August. The name of the holiday itself is reminiscent of the Latin name for these celebrations, that is Feriae Augusti, which means “Emperor Augustus’ vacation days”. (For those who have enjoyed the HBO series Rome as much as I did, it might be interesting to know that the celebrations of the Feriae Augusti were created in the year 18 B.C. by Octavian, known as Augustus after he became the first Emperor of the Roman Empire). But even before then, the Romans used to celebrate Consualia to honour the Consus, God of the harvests.

The Romans used to celebrate these August holidays with horse races, a tradition that’s still kept alive by the many festivals organized throughout the country. In Tuscany, for instance, the second Palio of Siena takes place on the 16th.

The  most typical way to celebrate Ferragosto is to go on a so-called “gita fuori porta“, literally a “day trip to some place outside the city gates”. Most people go to the beach, or have a picnic in the woods on the nearest mountain or in the countryside.

In our area, the most common “gite” are either a day on the beach (but beware of “gavettoni“, waterfilled bags thrown at people trying to relax in the sun) or on Monte Amiata. Most people go for a picnic or a barbecue to Prato della Contessa or Prato delle Macinaie, but also to the beech woods of La Madonna del Camicione or at Le Fonti delle Monache. Both beautiful places.

We will celebrate with a dinner at La Locanda nel Cassero tonight!

Ferragosto is very popular in movies and novels too. For cinema and literature lovers, here is a list of books and films about Ferragosto.


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