FERRAGOSTO (AUGUST 15)!
August 14, 2016
To many of us, August is a month of relaxation and vacation, family and time together. Italians also share the same love of August – not only is it a time for fun and island escape, but it is also the height of the tourist season. Hotel rates jump 3 or 4 times the normal amount, and restaurants are booked many months in advance. Sports teams and races are very popular during August, and tickets are reserved well ahead. It is also the start of preparation for the white grape harvest, especially in the Piedmont region, as the harvest can start as early as the first week of September. But why is all of the excitement saved for the hottest month of the year? And why does it center around one special day- Ferragosto, on August 15, when almost everyone in Italy takes a much needed holiday?
Second only to Christmas day, Ferragosto(which is tomorrow!) is a time for Italian’s favorite things – family, friends and food. With the work of the high season coming to an end, banks, schools and even Rome’s headquarters are closed to celebrate this holiday. The origin of Ferragosto dates from the year 18 BC when Emperor Augustus designated the holiday, “Fariae Augusti” (double meaning – “ Augustus’ rest” and “festivals of Augustus“) to celebrate the end of the harvest, among other things. On that day, huge horse races occurred all throughout the Empire, and fabulous festivities and repose for those who needed it reigned. As Christianity arrived in the Roman Empire, the pagan holiday was given new meaning. Many Catholics believe that on August 15, God took the Virgin Mary into Heaven to end her life — the Assumption or “l’Assunzione“. During this day, practicing Italian Catholics form parades and carry statues of the Virgin Mary to honor her. Much later, when Mussolini came to power, he discounted Italy’s trains on Ferragosto (“The People’s Train’s of Ferragosto”) so the Italian people could more easily move around the country to visit friends and family.
Now, on August 15, parades wind through the streets to celebrate the awaited Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Horses run around piazzas. The most famous of these races is the second running of Sienna’s Palio on August 16. If you miss the July performance, you can rent a balcony in Sienna for a few thousand dollars and be part of the hot, sticky fun! If the beach is your thing, join the thousands of bodies that crowd under an insufficient number of pricey umbrellas around the peninsula. In any case, if you are visiting Italy during this holiday or the week or two after, you can expect the beaches and roads to be very crowded, but you will be surprised to find that many villages seem empty (and many local restaurants are closed for the rest of the summer). Finally, whether you are traveling over Ferragosto or later in the summer, here are some helpful hot weather phrases to practice while you are vacationing:
Estate = Summer
Caldo = Hot
Spiaggia = beach
Tenda = tent or curtain
Mare = sea
Nuotare = to swim
Prendere il sole = to sunbathe
Insalata di riso = rice salad (very popular in the summer)
Costume (da bagno) = bathing suit
Bagnino = lifeguard
Chiuso per ferie = closed for the holidays!
And finally: “Si crepa dal caldo” = “It’s sweltering!” Buon estate! Happy Summer!