What is Ferragosto?
Next to Christmas, Easter, and New Year’s, Ferragosto is one of the most celebrated holidays in Italy. This unusual Italian holiday traditionally takes place on August 15th and you can pretty much bet that most businesses are going to be closed as Italians head to the mountains, lakes, and beaches for some rest, relaxation, and an escape from the summer’s heat.
The holiday is rooted in ancient history, going back to the beginning of the Roman Empire, when in 18BC, the emperor Augustus declared that the month of August, named after himself, would be dedicated to the Feriae Augusti (Festival of Augustus). This month long festival of food, wine, and celebration honored the goddess Diana, the virgin goddess of the hunt and moon. The month of August also honored the gods Vortumnus (god of the seasons, change, and plant growth) and Opeconsiva (goddess of plating and the crops). These two gods were worshiped to ensure that there would be a fruitful season and good weather to make certain that the harvest would be bountiful.
Diana was also the goddess of maternity, and the 15th of August was the most important day of the month long festival. The ancient Roman holiday was a celebration of maternity and fertility, whether it was in the fields with their abundant crops or in the bedroom with lots of (male) children to carry on the family line. Other days in August, such as the 13th and 25th, included elaborate religious rituals in honor of the pagan roman gods to ensure both fertile fields and fertile wives.
In Christianity, August is believed to be the month in which the Virgin Mary rose to heaven. The Roman Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthy life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This doctrine was dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. Christians turned to and prayed to The Virgin Mother to intercede on their behalf for a good harvest and an abundant crop.
Now the modern holiday is a time of rest and relaxation where the entire country slows down and Italians enjoy their summer holidays. August is also the hottest month of the year so Italians generally flee their cities for the cooler countryside. The religious aspects of the holiday coincide with the ancient origins to many Italians who see this as a time of rest, relaxation and beating the heat.
Ferragosto being celebrated in Italy.