What better way to wind up the hottest part of summer than with a Ferragosto post, right? Yet I can hear you asking, “Ferragosto? What in the world is it?” Well, it literally means “August vacation or holiday” And it’s the day (on August 15) officially celebrating the summer vacation from work.
Ferragosto means August holidays
Which traditionally started out as one week, but have in modern times evolved into an entire month off work! Sounds great? That’s because it is!
Many businesses and shops (except in touristy areas) close down for a good portion of the month. With even government offices and some hospitals running only skeletal crews! All of which can make life a bit trying.
But Italians, who have a strong philosophy of l’arrangiarsi or making do, seem to take it in stride. So what if you can’t get your ID card in August or half the shops are closed? Just head to the beach or find a local food feast (most towns have them), and eat, drink, and be merry!” Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day!
Ferragosto dates back to Roman days
During the Roman empire Ferragosto meant the Augustinian Holidays, named for the Emperor Augustus. Who introduced it in 18 BC to promote his political reign, by offering free food and wine in various locations.
In all actuality, it was an extension of two already existing Roman feasts. The Vinalia, similar to Our Roman Octobers, which celebrates the wine harvest. And the Consualia, celebrating the Roman god by that name.
Even animals got a holiday!
It was a day of no work for all beasts of burden like donkeys, oxen, horses, and mules. Although horse races were held throughout the kingdom. But seeing how horses love to run, I doubt they considered that work!
Racing traditions which are still strong and flourishing here, as seen in the Palio of Siena, a medieval festival well known for its horse race.
During the Fascist period
Today’s way of celebrating with a trip or outing, dates back only to Fascist days.
In the later 1920’s, the Fascist regime planned hundreds of trips aboard the People’s Trains of Ferragosto, at special discounted prices. Limited to the dates of 13-15 of August, they provided even the less well-off a chance to visit Italian cities, seasides, or mountain resorts. They could choose from two types of trips. The Day Trip of 50-100 km (31-62 miles). And the Three-Day Trip, going as far as 100-200 km (62-124 miles).
Italians obviously have a long-standing love affair with holidays! Or when it comes right down to it, with days off or entertainment of any kind! The Colosseum, the site of Rome’s free but deadly games, is standing proof of that.
Not all Roman entertainment, however, was violent. Many educated Romans, appalled by the violence, opted for the theater or poetry readings instead.
Free museum days
And in keeping with this intellectual tradition, did you know that on Ferragosto all public museums in Italy are free? Which of course means larger crowds. And possibly why most Italians stick to taking picnics or head to the beach.
It really is too bad, though, that no one offers such special low-cost trips anymore, like those of the 1920s. We would sign up right away! As I’m sure most Italians would!
And how about you? If they still offered nearly free Ferragosto trips where would you like to go?
Images: People in water. | Others are my own.