Today is a national holiday in Italy.
The 15th August is the day of Ferragosto, a word that comes from the Latin “feriae Augusti”, dating back to Roman times and meaning “August’s break”, from the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, Ottaviano Augusto. Back then, the celebrations were to praise and worship Diana, the goddess of fertility of growth. The farmers and growers were able to rest, spend time with their family, eat and drink the glorious products they had produced.
With time, the desire of the Catholics was to assimilate the holiday, which also assumed a religious nuance, with the commemoration of the Assumption of Mary.
Since Italy is a pretty religious country, you can imagine how these two factors together make the 15th of August a perfect opportunity to party!
Many traditions revolve around Ferragosto, slightly changing from region to region, going from camping on the beach next to a bonfire to the more folkloristic “vare”.
A “Vara” is a colorful and masterfully created cart dedicated to the assumption of Mary, which gets carried in procession around towns, with a follow of devoted believers, especially in the South of Italy.
If you are in Toscany, you are in for a treat! Many villages and cities in central Italy organise “sagre” and festivals, but it is in Siena where one of the most traditional events takes place. In the scenographic piazza, full of people holding their breath for the excitement, il Palio, the quintessential horse race, will create suspense as well as a great occasion to drink and eat delicious wine and food. This is how the Piazza del Campo looks like on 15th August…
As mentioned, Italians make the most of the day and the weather so they would usually organise picnics on the fields, bbqs on the beach and big lunches with the family and tables laden with frittata, pasta al forno (oven-baked pasta), pollo arrosto (roasted chicken), cannelloni (filled pasta).
The tendency to spend the day out and perhaps visit a nearby location is also a tradition with a historical background, finding its roots in the more recent Fascist years. During Mussolini’s dictatorship, he organised cheap train fares between the 13th and the 15th of August, to allow the Italians to discover and travel their country. Since then, people organise trips and days-out during the whole week. However, a word of warning, the lower price promoted by the Duce is sadly a feature not kept with time, as the week of Ferragosto is famously the most expensive of the year for holiday-makers! So, if you find yourself in Italy around the 15th August, fill up your shopping bags, revisit a few classic recipes and enjoy some time at home with friends and family!