If you’re Italian American you could guess that the most important holidays in Italy are Christmas, New Year’s, Easter and of course Ferragosto. If you’re scratching your head at the last one, look no further, we’ve got an explanation of this centuries-old festival for you.
Ferragosto is celebrated in Italy on August 15, a day that marks both the federal holiday and the religious holiday of the Assumption of Mary. With both ancient and Christian origins, many Italians now celebrate it as a part of their month-long summer vacations. Many young Italians see this day as akin to New Year’s with night-long celebrations of dancing, drinking and watching live performances or fireworks.
The holiday was first proclaimed by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC as feraie Augusti and lasted the entire month, according to http://www.italymag.co.uk. This is where Italians derive the word ferie for holiday. In August it’s common for Italian stores to post signs that say chiuso per ferie (closed for vacation). Romans dedicated the celebrations to gods and goddesses, most notably Diana goddess of the woods, the phases of the Moon and maternity, writes Tuscany-based author Kyle Philips in italianfood.about.com.
During the advent of Christianity, those that once prayed to Diana turned to the Virgin Mary for these matters. In the 18th Century it became widely believed that August 15 is the day that the Virgin Mary was assunta in cielo or transported directly to heaven. In 1950, Pope Pius XII formally proclaimed August 15 as Assunzione or Assumption Day.
Many Italians head to the coast to celebrate Ferragosto, enjoying a piadina (flat bread sandwich) or a slice of anguria (watermelon). Most offices, shops and restaurants are closed, but the celebrations are abundant.
What are you doing to celebrate Ferragosto this year? Tell us on the Sons of Italy Facebook page!
Written by OSIA National Office Assistant, Carol Cummings.