The Italian word “Ferragosto”, in other languages, doesn’t have a literal translation. It’s useless typing it on a common translator or looking for its brief definition on the most modern encyclopedias. Ferragosto can only be told!
Surely, the synonyms that more suit this untranslatable word are relax, leisure and vacation! Ferragosto is indeed the mid-summer festivity celebrated in Italy and in the small Republic of San Marino that occurs August 15th.
Looking at its origin, the term derives from the Latin “Feriae Augusti”, or the feast day of the Emperor August, who introduced it during the splendor of the Roman Empire. Therefore, it is born in ancient times as a festivity culminating in the break period granted between two important moments of the agricultural economy of the Empire: the summer harvest of grains and the forthcoming grape and olive harvests.
With time, as decreed by the Catholic Church, the festivity had been purposely moved to coincide with the liturgic anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption, remaining, in any case, the ultimate day for a break from work.
The entertainment, with the family or with friends, is typical of this day. Depending on your age and the place where you find yourself in, you can participate in long lunches; be included in water games, like the famous “gavettoni,” favored by the summer heat; be enchanted by bonfires and barbecues at the beach; courageously dive for a midnight swim at the sea; attend concerts, fireworks and other events under the stars…
For the ones not in a holiday resort, typically, Ferragosto represents the occasion for an outdoor trip, a small excursions outside the city area that allows a better experience of the leisure sensation. However, who stays in the city too can enjoy the holiday spirit, taking advantage of the many departures that leave the metropolis empty, sometimes even too empty for the foreign, unaware tourists that can’t do anything but get involved in the amusement.
Across the Peninsula, many communities continue still today to celebrate some ancient traditions of Ferragosto. From the North to the South, islands included, you can in fact find peculiar horse races, original competitions or masked parades. The list is endless, and here are some of the most famous: The ride of the Giant and the Giantess (La Cavalcata del Gigante e della Gigantessa) that occurs in Messina, Sicily, where enormous puppets made of papier-mâché are carried on one’s shoulders around the city; At the Coligoliano Pier in Pozzuoli there’s a competition called “O Pennone”, or the greedy pole, where contestants have to reach the top of a pole greased with soap in order to retrieve a flag; Just before sunset, in Sarteano, the Giostra of the Saracino is held, a competition of skills between riders; The day after, but still part of the Ferragosto celebrations, the Palio dell’Assunta takes place in Siena, another heart-felt competition that recalls the horse races held during the Empire.
In order to celebrate the liturgic festivity, honoring the Virgin Mary to whom Italians are devoted, in many Italian cities spectacular night processions take place with torches and lights.
Being a unique and typically Italian festivity, August 15th, in the United States, isn’t a holiday, but in some family of Italian origins or thanks to a few cultural associations, the spirit of Ferragosto is kept alive with special culinary events, dance evenings, film screening and games for children.
Wishing you will understand, even for just a few minutes, the meaning of this holiday,
HAPPY FERRAGOSTO TO EVERYONE!