Ferragosto – A National Holiday/Party


When the Shepherd’s off for Ferragosto – Guess who is in Charge!

15 agosoto is a super special day all over Italy!  A national holiday that sends thousands to the beach, forests and points unknown.  I’m sure that Jack and I have been in Italy in August other years but for some reason we didn’t feel the impact of ferragosto.

Tragedy number 1 – No bread to be bought anywhere!  I obviously didn’t hit il forno, alimentari or supermercato early enough and every place was sold out of bread. Ferragosto must be national i  panini day too.

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You have to get there early on Ferragosto!

Tragedy number 2 – We realize we are too bloody OLD to be forced to party all day and into the night.  Another morning spent with bleary eyes and heavy head.

Tragedy number 3 – everything is closed!  Bars stayed open – they never get to celebrate.

Tragedy number 4 – I have Italian citizenship, participate in the health care system but embarrassingly don’t know what the holiday represented. So what is Ferragosto?  I asked a number of people and they all said non lo so or a holiday to celebrate summer or to celebrate workers or that ever popular I haven’t got a hell of an idea – bo. The ever wise Mario Mancini said Augustus started it.  Huh, why and when?

Thanks to Wickipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferragosto) I discovered –

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest), which is a celebration introduced by the Emperor Augustus in 18 BC. This was an addition to ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month and celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor.

On our way back to Midge's roots!

Time to decorate the oxen and head for the picnic!

The ancient Ferragosto, in addition to obvious self-celebratory political purposes, had the purpose of linking the main August festivities to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labour of the previous weeks.  People would picnic in the fields, play music and…

Midge: August means the country is on vacation!  This could have negative consequences in an already shaky economy.

During these celebrations, horse races were organized across the Empire, and beasts of burden, were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Such ancient traditions are still alive today, virtually unchanged in their form and level of participation during the Palio dell’Assunta which takes place on 16 August in Siena.

During Fascism, the tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organized hundreds of cheap/free popular trips.

The Catholic Church celebrates this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary— what they believe to be the actual physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven.

Before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, however, this holiday also included honoring of gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening.

Bottom line, since Diana blessed the earth, parties rule the country on August 15th.

In Pontelandolfo, holding to the tradition of the event, most families organize a picnic in the mountains. Usually the small and narrow mountain roads are empty.

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Lovely views out the car windows!  No guardrails!

This quindicesimo di agosoto the roads were – well – think the Daytona 500 speedway in the last heat. The only difference is you can tumble to your deeath off the edge of the mountain. But I get ahead of myself.

Our friends Alda and Gennaro were the ones that told us about Ferragosto so I wrangled a picnic trip to the the mountain with them. The night before, thanks to the incredible potato and tomato harvest of our landlord Nicola, I made a potato salad, tomato salad and since I loath cucumbers – Jack made a cucumber salad. We also packed wine, water, cutlery, cheese and who can remember. Alda packed sausage, roasta (pork slabs), cheeses, beer, bread and so much stuff that the back of the car was jammed. Gennaro loves to grill over a wooden fire so they were in charge of meats.

We crammed our stuff in the car and off we went. Gennarro loves going to the mountains and was a wealth of information. I decided to call him Gennar-apedia. There are fountains all over the territory, many built during the Borbone or Savoian reigns.


Man and beast can drink pure mountain water.

Massive stone signs embedded in the hill often tell the name of the fountain – Fontana di Cristina – named for the wife of Umberto 1st a Savoia.

I hadn’t realized – well maybe I did but until I saw it – just how huge a commune Pontelandolfo was. There are many little ancient villages tucked all over the mountain – contrada – that are part of Pontelandolfo.

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We saw crumbling medieval buildings and glorious weekend houses constructed out of some of the ancient row houses. I’m told wealthy Neapolitans are creating summer and weekend houses. This isn’t such a bad thing – taxes get paid and the area gets prettied up.  As we continued our quest for the perfect spot we passed Fontana Sillenziosa – this water is good for “fare peepee”.  Why use a chemical diuretic when the mountain can provide a natural one!  I need to really take the time to explore the fountains and get all of their stories.


First Possibility!

We came to one fountain nestled in the mountain with a picnic table. Gennaro stopped the car and I thought this would be our picnic spot. If you didn’t look at the fountain which was next to a garbage pail overflowing with trash and crap left by pigs strewn near the road attracting honeybees, it was a pretty good spot. We wanted the best so back in the car we went.

The mountain was packed with people. I think some of them camped out at the best spots the night before. Swings were set up in trees, fires were built, like fields of crocuses in bloom blankets were covering meadows. One jam packed mountain parco included a stone cottage originally built for shepherds. A family started a roaring fire in the ancient fireplace and the elders were cosily ensconced there.


Stone hut complete with fireplace found high in the mountain.

Well, there was no room for us on this hill top so we zoomed off to another – hmm what is that I smell through the open window? Sweet maryjane – let’s stop here! The hill was packed with twenty to thirty somethings playing Calcio, setting up tables, generally having the best of time picnicking. We ancients didn’t want to cramp there style – well most of us didn’t.


Young ones park and walk up to the party on the hill.

We ended up at the first place we found, unpacked the car, ate, drank and had a smashing good time.


Happy Ferragosto!

OK, now you know what the grey set did but what did a charming 17 year old bright young lady do?  Let’s ask one.  Alessia Guerrera lives in a small town near Sorrento.  Alessia popped in to practice her English and I quizzed her on her Ferragosto.


Evil me  started with the question that no one in town could answer.   Why do you celebrate Ferragosto?  I don’t know.
Do you know when this holiday started?       I don’t know – I don’t think anyone knows.
Do they talk about this holiday in school.       No – never.        ( It seems to me that Mario is the only person who knew about Augustus.)

Alessia, tell me how you celebrated?      The day started for me early – I woke up tired at 7 o’clock in the morning.  Even though I was sleepy, I prepared all the things that I had to take to my best friend’s house.  I blew up balloons, baked a cake and gathered up the speakers for our music. Then at 8:00 o’clock my dad drove me to my friend’s house.

Where is the house of your friend?     On the little mountain called Carpineto.  When I got to the house I talked with my friend’s mom ensure that she was comfortable with us being there.

Wasn’t she going to be there?     His mom left and we were alone.  She went out with her family and friends too.  After she left, we waited anxiously  for our  twenty other friends. Everyone had their parents drive them up the mountain to the party.

Why would ones parents want to drive them up the mountain to a wild party???
Because here this kind of party in the mountain is traditional.  Our parents used to go to the sea.  Today a person can go to the mountains or to the sea.  We set up speakers, plugged in our cellular phones and danced to the music.  We danced until noon and then we cooked.

I can’t imagine twenty kids in the kitchen but hey – cooking together can be a lot of fun.
Some of us were in the kitchen and the others were in the dining room setting the table for lunch.   We ate pasta forno – it is made with cooked pasta,  prosciutto, mozzarella, and eggs layered in a baking dish. We also had insalata di riso, salame, salsiccia, and beef steak grilled. For dessert we ate a chocolate and vanilla cake, the chocolate cake that I made and other pastries.  To drink – we drank beer, wine, coke and that’s it.

Did your parents know you had beer and wine???
Yes, they knew. Italian parents let their children sip wine from birth.  Some parents let their children drink but the other parents do not.  After  lunch we cleaned all the rooms.  We went outside. We laughed.  We danced.  We joked and partied until the sun rose.

Thank you Augustus for yet another reason to have a party in August!

5 thoughts on “Ferragosto – A National Holiday/Party

  1. Roads without guardrails. I’ve had that experience while here in Bali. Many hillside roads that twist and turn and have a large precipitous drop off to one side. Even thought the roads are very thin in Holland the worst that can happen is you end up in a canal, not hundreds of meters to a rocky crag below.
    This has been my favorite blog entry so far. I felt as if I were traveling and eating with you. With the emphasis on eating. I loved the interview with a local youth. It helps give perspective on how generations maintain tradition with a youthful twist.
    Being outside of America has been such an eye opening experience for me. It has changed me, and I really enjoy reading how your time in the land of your ancestors has not only validated who you are but has given you a sense of how you became that way. Being changed by having people understand who you already are. I sense the change isn’t external but internal EVOKED by the external. If that makes ANY sense at all.


  2. Oh, Midge, — this makes me so long for Italy and the gloriously pagan pleasures of August in the moutains, leisure, sunshine, friends, feasting! Great writing!


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