One of the things Italians pride themselves on it’s calculating how to maximize their days off. Thanks to an abundance of religious holidays, the calendar year is peppered with “ponti” or long weekends, strategically mapped out to make the most of days off, even at the expense of tacking on a personal day. The higher up on the food-chain, the more vacation days you get…

Ferragosto is the equalizer — this is the holiday for ALL Italian workers. It falls on the 15 of August and it has roots of ancient origin.

For starters, the name of the holiday, Ferragosto is derived from the Latin phrase Feriae Augusti  (Augustus’ rest). In 18BC, Emperor Augustus decreed that a feast be dedicated to celebrate the end of agricultural work. This “holiday” would also include the already established festivities of Vinalia (festival of the wine harvest and in honor of Jupiter and Venus) and Consualia (the celebration of the god Consus of Harvest) falling in the same month,  because together, they  would create an adequate period of rest (also called Augustali) which was deemed necessary after the great efforts spent in the fields in the previous weeks leading up to the holiday.

During the imperial celebrations, horse races were organized, while laboring animals were released from work and dressed up with flowers. The “Palio of the Assumption”, which takes place in Siena on August 16th, recalls this ancient tradition in a substantially unchanged way.

Originally, the holiday fell on August 1st, but the Catholic Church moved the date to the 15th in order to have it coincide with the religious feast of the Assumption of Mary.

During the Fascist period, the popular tradition of the Ferragosto tourist trip was born. From 1931-1939 the regime offered the less wealthy social classes the opportunity to reach cities on the sea or mountain resorts and Citta’ d’arte, cities renowned for their cultural richness, at highly discounted prices, thanks to the establishment of the Treni Popolari di Ferragosto  “Popular Ferragosto Trains”. These included the “One-day trip”, valid for travel within a radius of about 50-100 km, and the “Three-day trip” with a radius of about 100–200 km. Like today, cities would empty out as workers and their families headed out to vacation destinations….

Thanks to these popular offers, the majority of Italian families had, for the first time, the opportunity to see the sea, the mountains and these cultural centers with their own eyes. Because these trips did not include food, the tradition of a packed lunch was also born. This tradition is still very much alive and widespread today.

Nowadays, people still ride the rails, or travel by car or by camper, flooding the highways and creating long lines at tolls all heading to their much deserved vacation spots….here in Trieste, those of us “Staycationing” enjoy ample parking, no crowds and our choice of beach, mountain, sporting and cultural activities.  And to reward us there will be a great fireworks display on the 15th in front of Piazza Unita’ and no shortage special events and celebrations in and around town.

Check out this link on FB to a see what’s going in Trieste on Ferragosto!


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