On August 15th Italy celebrates a Catholic holiday, namely the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, and which over time has become synonymous with a midsummer party and trips out of town. Grills, bonfires and water balloons, which have now become Italian traditions for Ferragosto, have very little to do with this anniversary.
Ferragosto: traditions from ancient Rome
The term “Ferragosto” apparently derives from feriae Augusti, the rest of Augustus, a public holiday determined by the Roman emperor Octavian Augustus in 18 B.C. which aligned itself partly to Consualia, the ancient ceremonies of the Roman religion dedicated to Conso, the god of the barns and fertility, celebrated during the harvest period and the end of the agricultural work.
Many Palios also come from the tradition of the Roman games: in Porto Santo Stefano there is the Palio dell’Argentario, an ancient rowing competition, canceled again this year due to the Covid situation. In Sarteano, near Siena, the Giostra del Saracino takes place shortly before sunset, a competition of skills between knights. The Palio di Siena, held on August 16, is a competition between the Contradas of the city, but this year the edition was canceled again due to the actual health emergency situation.
When were the Italian traditions for Ferragosto born?
The popular Italian tradition regarding a day trip on August 15th was born during the Fascist period. Starting from the second half of the 1920s, on this day the regime organized, with the post-work associations of the various corporations, hundreds of popular trips with the Popular Trains of Ferragosto at discounted prices. The trips did not include food, so the connected tradition of packed lunches was also born.
Even now, on the day dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, the sea and mountain areas are “attacked” by millions of people who retrace, in different ways and times, the tradition that started during that famous twenty years. Today Ferragosto is a special day especially among the youngest who, starting from the night of the 14th, organize a bonfire on the beach to stay together all night and watch the sunrise in good company.
Italian traditions for Ferragosto: in the kitchen
The Ferragosto barbecue, of meat and or fish, is a tradition born around the 1950s-60s, a period in which the post-war Italian economic well-being began to be felt. Obviously, every Italian region has its own typical dish for this day.
For example, in Tuscany people cook a roast pigeon, a custom that seems to have originated in the Carolingian era. In Sicily, the typical dessert is the gelu ri muluni, a dessert made with watermelon.
In Rome, the typical Ferragosto dish is chicken with peppers, while Sardinia prepares its particular sweets of Spanish origin called “orelettes”. In Foggia, in Puglia, for lunch there is rooster broth, challenging the high temperatures. On all the tables throughout Italy, however, watermelon is a must, which has become the symbol of this day.