The concept of “vacation” varies throughout the world and between cultures, but nowhere is the difference more apparent than between Italians and Americans. In America, if we’re lucky, we set off on a much-needed and anticipated two-week jaunt only to return to work to wait another year for a break. In Italy, things are done differently and for many (good) reasons.
Ferragosto is an official Italian public holiday celebrated on Aug. 15 dating back to 18 BC. The origins date back to Emperor Augustis with the “festivities” stemming from political purposes at its inception. Ultimately this Roman holiday was adopted by the Catholic Church who moved the date of celebration officially to Aug. 15 to coincide with the Assumption of Mary. The word “Ferragosto” comes from the Latin “feriae Augusti” (The festivals of the emperor Augustis) and honors the first Roman emperor by its namesake. For modern-day Italy, the 15th of August recognizes the middle of the Italian summer and the unofficial start of the holiday season.
Throughout Italy and parts of Europe, August is recognized widely as simply a time to rest, a time to break away from daily burdens and the crowds of the cities. Both young and old can be seen flocking to the nearest beach or traveling into the mountains to escape the sweltering heat. It may come as a surprise, but August in Italy is truly a beautiful time.
The notion of slowing down and relishing in the droning but intricate details of a long mid-summer day is an art form. In Italy that art form is perfected and in August can be seen up close and throughout history, even in films. There is a harmonious yet melancholy feeling strolling the streets of Rome in mid-August, or any other major city in Italy for that matter. A feeling of contemplation and quietness that can replenish the soul, as depicted so brilliantly in the Italian film “Mid-August Lunch” by Gianni Di Gregorio.
A good portion of shops shut down for upwards of an entire month, restaurants shutter their doors, transit options seem to become even more limited than usual, and your desire to live “la dolce vita” is put on the backburner. Signs of “chiuso per ferie” can be seen in many a shop window.
Still, many establishments remain open in larger tourist cities, in particular Rome. Not all shops and restaurants will be closed, nor will most of the larger tourist attractions. I promise you will find an open Gelato shop somewhere in Rome in August. The onset of the pandemic shuttered many Italian businesses for almost two years straight, so the recovery period is still well under way. This will bode well for any tourists who have unknowingly booked their Italian getaway during the month of August.
Tourist inconveniences aside, Ferragosto holds much deeper meaning than simply a month-long holiday. Known as “il giorno dell’Assunta” or “the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary” for Catholics worldwide, massive religious processions and celebrations can be found throughout Italy recognizing this sacred Christian holiday. August serves as a time not only of rest but reflection alongside those closest to you.
Taking a month long “vacation” is not a broadly accepted concept for us here. But as Italian Americans we should embrace the month of August with excitement and enjoyment. Ferragosto is a part of our culture. It embodies essential fundamentals we cherish as Italian Americans in our daily lives. Family, religion, reflection, rest and ultimately rejuvenation are at the heart of Ferragosto. So enjoy these upcoming days, no matter where you find yourself. As for me, I’ll see you in September!