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 holidays. And it’s the day (on August 15) which officially celebrates the summer vacation from work. A holiday which traditionally started out as one week, but has in modern times evolved into an entire month off work! Sounds great? That’s because it is!
But many businesses and shops (except in touristy areas) also close down for a good portion of the month, which can make life a bit trying! And sadly, even government offices and even some hospitals run only skeletal crews!
Ferragosto means August vacation or holidays.
And although Ferragosto also coincides with the Assumption of Mary (a major Roman Catholic feast day), we think, the actual meaning expresses the spirit behind Ferragosto. So what if you can’t get your ID card during August, or half the shops are closed? Just go find a local feast (most towns have them), and eat, drink, and be merry!” Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day!
In Roman days, however, Ferragosto meant the Augustinian Holidays.
Named after the Emperor Augustus who introduced it in 18 BC to promote his political reign, he provided free food and wine offered 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.
Ferragosto celebrations also consisted of horse races throughout the kingdom.
Along with a day of no work for all beasts of burden, such as donkeys, oxen, and mules. And these racing traditions are still alive and flourishing here, as seen in the Palio of Siena, a medieval festival well known for its horse race.
But 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! And the Colosseum is standing proof of that. A sad reminder of man’s fascination with blood, gore, and violence. But, thankfully, not all Roman entertainment was violent. Many educated Romans, appalled by the violence, chose to attend the theater or poetry readings instead.
And in keeping with this type of intellectual tradition, did you know that all public museums in Italy are free on Ferragosto? Of course, that usually means you’ll have to fight with bigger crowds. Which could be 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 would most Italians!
And how about you? If they still offered nearly free trips, where would you like to go for Ferragosto?
[Images are our own.]