On August 15, Italians celebrated the holiday Ferragosto, which coincides with the Catholic feast, the Assumption of Mary. At the same time, Italians traditionally take a long vacation during mid-August, which is also known as Ferragosto. It may be a long weekend holiday, or a month long vacation.
History of Ferragosto
The Assumption of Mary Feast is a celebration of the day Catholics believe Mary ascended to heaven. This Catholic holiday coincides with an older Roman tradition, Ferragosto – the festivals of the Emperor Augustus. Historians believe that this celebration dates as far back as 18 BCE, perhaps to celebrate a battle victory alongside other ancient summer festivals.
Other historians point to Roman times when August was the time to celebrate Roman gods Diana and Vortumno – as thanks for abundant crops and harvest. In ancient times, Ferragosto would begin in July and end in September – much longer than today’s celebrations.
Coincidentally, Ferragosto and the Assumption of Mary Feast happen during the Perseid meteor showers – undoubtedly a magical time in the ancient world.
On August 16, following the feasts, celebrations included the Siena Palio dell’Assunta, a famous horse race or the rowing competition at Porto Santo Stefano.
Contemporary Ferragosto Celebrations
In more recent times, Ferragosto signals the long summer vacation for Italians. Regardless of geography, this long August summer holiday gives people a break from the heat. Italians will travel to the ocean, lakes, or mountains to relax in cool, quiet environments with their families.
If people choose to stay in town, they spend time with their families. In either cases, food is at the center of these summer holidays. Meals are typically served as a huge lunch or dinner, whether at home or in the restaurant. Outdoor meals of picnics are quite common, as people sit at the sea or lakeside, watching fireworks or walking through the country.
A recent survey conducted by the Italian National Farmers Association found that 27% of Italians celebrated with friends and family. For food, 24% of Italians preferred to have picnics with home-made foods while 9% liked to have lunch at restaurants where they were vacationing.
Cuisine of Ferragosto
Pranzo di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch), an Italian comedy film from 2008, takes place over the long August vacation in Italy. In the film, a middle-aged man who struggles with debts spends the long August holidays with his octogenarian mother and other elderly women in the neighborhood, while everyone goes away. The film explores community, love, the past, and celebration – with food playing a huge role!
The cuisine of Ferragosto reflects the simplicity of summer cuisine in Italy. Dishes are generally quite fresh, with carpaccio, seafood, fresh produce, and small plates of olives and cured meats and cheeses. Chicken with peppers is a popular lunch for Ferragosto, as well as a focus on vegetables.
At the traditional Festa dell’Assunta, to celebrate the Assumption of Mary, people would normally eat a traditional fish lunch in restaurants. Additionally, to celebrate the abundant harvest, typical dishes at Ferragosto include wheat or spelt, as well as fresh fruit and roasted meats. Desserts include cookies with aniseed icing.