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What is the Italian Holiday Ferragosto and how is it Celebrated?

Buon Ferragosto! A popular greeting heard amongst Italians towards the end of summer.

What is Ferragosto?

Ferragosto, technically August 15, is the official start to the Italian exodus out of the city to the clean, cool air of the mountains or to the sunny, playful costal beaches. It is a sacred time, a time to spend with family and friends; to forget about work and obligations. It is a one-day national holiday. Depending on the industry one works in, vacation time can be anywhere from 2 weeks to the entire month. Typically people in the hospitality industry will only take 2 weeks off.Some must return to work immediately after, but most Italians will take at least the following 2 weeks of summer off. Many businesses are closed during this time; however the government requires a certain number of facilities to be open in a geographical area such as pharmacies, hotels, restaurants, coffee bars and groceries stores. The museums, restaurant and sites we all covet will be open throughout the month, tourism is too important to shut everything down. 

How it started

The exact translation of “Ferragosto” is Feast (Fest) of Agustus and comes from holidays started by emperor Augustus in 18 BCE. In religious circles it celebrates the Assumption of Mary, the belief that God took the body of Jesus’ mother Mary into heaven at her death. The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto was introduced under the Fascist regime in the second half of the 1920’s. The regime’s recreational organizations began organizing hundreds of trips setting up the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto” which provided discounted prices to less affluent people and gave them opportunity to travel to other parts of Italy and to spend time at mountain and beach side resorts.

The tradition has continued to this day and Ferragosto has become a celebration of summer!

Traveling to Italy in August

If your plans take you to Italy in August, here are a few things that can help:
  • The heat will be intense and you will be tempted to strip down to practically nothing, but keep in mind that most of Italy's grand cathedrals have a strict dress code.
  • Visit as much as you can as early as possible to avoid throngs of tourists and the heat.
  • Make sure your accommodations have A/C. Air conditioning is not as ubiquitous in Italy as it is here in the States. 
  • Book all sites online to avoid long outside lines.
  • Visit out of the way places like lakes and smaller villages for a truer Italian experience.
  • Take mid-day breaks inside the cool, marbled interior churches. You may even happen upon a choir rehearsal----it's happened to me and it's so lovely. 
My best advice is to pace yourself, don't try to see everything in a day, instead find the smaller, quieter corners to bask in the wonderful Italian culture that truly can be found any day of the year.

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