Ferragosto In Italy Is More Than A Summer Vacation

Ferragosto in Italy is an important break from daily life across Italy that you need to be aware of if you are taking your Roman vacation around August 15th.

Ferragosto In Italy - Closed For Vacation

Closed For Vacation

If you are like me, you have heard stories over the years about how Italians and other European countries take the entire month of August off and depending on your perspective, that is either the greatest thing you have ever heard of or you are shocked that Italians are willing to shut down their businesses just to go to the beach.

What Is The Meaning Of The Ferragosto Celebration?

What is actually going on is the cultural phenomenon known as Ferragosto. If you are not familiar with the word, it is a combination of Ferie, meaning vacation, and Agosto, meaning August. During the month of August, Italians take a much needed break from daily life and take a bit of a vacation. They go to the beaches or the mountains, depending on their preferences, and recharge with their families and friends by taking a break from their daily grind and the oppressive heat of the city.

Many businesses will close for some or all of August only to return in September. We moved into our apartment in a previous August, so this had initially concerned me somewhat selfishly because I was worried that something I needed to do as part of the relocation wouldn’t be possible for a month. Would I be able to get my gas, electric and internet hooked up? Would the hardware stores be able to make copies of our keys? Could I get a haircut? I probably worried too much, but when you walk around seeing all the closed businesses and signs saying: “See You In September!” you start to wonder.

What Is Celebrated On August 15th?

Ferragosto In Italy - Longer Vacation Into September

Longer Vacation Into September

Ferragosto is a public holiday in Italy and in 2022 it was celebrated on Monday, August 15. While it was originally on August 1st and conceived as a day of rest during the time of Emperor Augustus, this pagan festival was assimilated by the Catholic Church who changed the date to coincide with the celebration of the Assumption of Mary, which, according to Catholic dogma, established that the Virgin Mary was received into heaven in both body and soul. The specific day of rest grew into a summer vacation period that lasted from a day, to a long weekend, to a couple of weeks to the entire month, depending on the business. The growing influence of non-Catholic countries and competition from abroad have reduced the typical vacation to only two weeks.

The Ferragosto Celebration During The Fascist Period

As was common during this time, Mussolini tried to bend the tradition to build the popularity of his movement in Italy. The tradition of the Ferragosto tourist trip was born during this period. The fascist regime organized hundreds of popular trips aimed at the more economically disadvantaged. Specifically, from 1931 to 1939,  they made available special popular trains, initially only of 3rd class, with heavily discounted prices.

This allowed for the possibility of the lower social classes to visit Italian cities, seaside or mountain resorts. The offer was only a long weekend and a limited distance of up to 200 km. Thanks to these trips, many Italian families had for the first time the opportunity to see the sea, the mountains and the cities full of art. However, food was not included and this led to the tradition of packed lunches in Italy.

Why Don’t We Go To The Beach On August 15th?

This holiday is celebrated across Italy, but the traditions vary from region to region. Some examples are:

Ferragosto In Italy - Even Starts In July Sometimes

Even Starts In July Sometimes

  • In the Lombardy and Piedmont regions, it used to be the custom of employers to “give the Ferragosto“, which was gifting money or edible goods to employees so that they could spend the day-off with their families.
  • In the city of Turin, until the mid-twentieth century, many went to the restaurants or packed lunches to be eaten in the park on the banks of the Po river.
  • In the city of Pozzuoli, near Naples and the home of Sofia Loren, on August 15 there is a challenge where competitors must be able to reach the top of the soap-strewn pole and retrieve a flag.
  • In Terracina, south of Rome,  on August 14th thousands participate in parties organized by the local swimming clubs  along the coast for the traditional “Midnight Swim” which includes an elaborate fireworks display.
  • In France, fireworks are organized in Nice and its neighboring villages. Although Nice was never technically part of Italy, it was part of the House of Savoy, which became the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, which became Italy after Nice left.  

The Italian Menu Of Ferragosto

Packing a lunch and bringing it to be enjoyed during your day at the beach has become the tradition in Italy. More specifically, the food of choice is some variation of fowl. In Tuscany and Emilia Romana the old tradition is a lunch of roast pigeon which still survives, in Rome their tradition is a stewed chicken, followed by watermelon and further south in Puglia, they too enjoy a roaster with some potatoes.

The Ferragosto Festival In Rome

Not everyone has the means or desire to take that much time off and you can be certain that the eternal city does not close for holidays. Public services do not go on vacation, nor does law enforcement. Some cities, including Rome, will make plans for those people who remain in the city during August. All the city’s museums, the archaeological areas, the Circus Maximus, the Imperial Forums, the Baths of Caracalla and the Colosseum will be open on August 15th.

If you want to escape the heat of August, you can also visit some of the great exhibits in the museums around town and dedicate a day to art and air conditioning. You should check out:

Government buildings and most businesses in Rome will be closed on August 15th and many restaurants and supermarkets will also be closed on the 14th and 16th, but if you plan accordingly by shopping a little ahead of time and getting your haircuts early, you should be able survive without much of a problem. If you get around by public transportation, you can expect a reduced summer schedule, which includes the buses, trams and subways, so you should adjust your plans to account for this.

Ferragosto in Italy - See You In September

See You In September!

More Help With Italian Culture Holidays

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