Italy's sunniest public holiday, Ferragosto, is celebrated on August 15th. Ferragosto is traditionally the peak of the holiday season, and it's still widespread for companies and shops to close down entirely and send all employees on vacation. In our modern times with international trade and ever-increasing tourism, many businesses can't afford to close their doors altogether. Still, August remains the most popular holiday month, and millions of Italians take their annual vacation in the two weeks before or after August 15th.
Expect highways, airports and train stations to be super busy. All beaches will be packed. In the news you will hear about "esodo di Ferragosto", the exodus of people leaving the heat of the cities heading towards sea, mountains or international destinations. In the cities, you will see numerous "Chiuso per ferie" (closed for holydays) signs popping up, and you'll notice that there are far fewer Italians around and it's quieter than usual.
Keep in mind that this is an important holiday and all public offices are closed. Most museums and cultural sites remain open, so it's an excellent time to visit major attractions and sights or book one of our fun tours.
Besides a celebration of summer, Ferragosto is also a religious holiday. The Roman Catholics celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. According to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, the feast of the Assumption commemorates the death of Mary, mother of Jesus, and her ascent into heaven after the end of her earthly life. The timing of the assumption coincides with a previously existing pagan holiday that dates back to the early Roman times.
The name Ferragosto has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic church, however, but everything with the Roman emperor Augustus.
The Feriae Augusti or Festivals of Augustus were introduced by the first Emperor of the Roman Empire in 18 BC. Several other festivities were already held in that month like the Vinalia Rustica and the Consualia to celebrate the harvest and the end of an extended period of hard work in the fields. The additional Feriae linked all festivities together giving the workers a longer period of well-deserved rest.
Many of the ancient traditions that started in Augustus' time are still part of Ferragosto celebrations throughout Italy today. The horseraces that were organized across the Empire are still alive in our modern time. With the Palio of Siena that takes place on August 16th being the most famous example.
Expect Ferragosto celebrations throughout all Italy with music, food, parades, religious processions, beach games, water balloons, bonfires, dancing, and fireworks. Ferragosto is a day to relax, have fun and celebrate the summer. Typically Italians will use this holiday to indulge in lavish meals where families and friends gather all together, preferably at a beach location. Join in, do like the Italians do, either enjoying great food or just indulging in a little dolce far niente.