Words by Pat Eggleton

Assumption Day on 15th August is when all Italy, or so it seems, stops work to celebrate.

What Italians are actually celebrating on that day is actually quite interesting because the festival has elements of both the ancient and Christian worlds. First proclaimed by the Emperor Augustus in 18 BC the feriae Augusti originally lasted for all or most of August.

It was a time when everyone felt they could relax after the hard work of the harvest and, unusually, a period when the nobility mixed with the labouring classes. The Romans feted the gods of agriculture and those associated with the change of seasons.

Roman women feted Diana, goddess of hunting but also, because of her association with the phases of the moon, of maternity.

The festival evolved from being a month-long event to an event celebrated in the second half of August and later became a one-day celebration. Yet in some parts of Italy there are echoes of the ancient, longer feast in the habit of not reopening shops on August evenings. Later on, Christians began to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15th August and so we have the ferragosto of today.

During the day, you could hear a pin drop in the centre of many Italian towns as people gather in the countryside or in their houses with relatives and friends to celebrate. But the night is a different matter in many towns and even a small village may hold a firework display.

If you are going to be in Italy during this period, it is always worth checking whether there will be a special ferragosto celebration where you are staying.

Most notable ferragosto celebrations

Festa del Mare, Diano Marina [Liguria] August 15th
A sea festival with fireworks.

Palio del Mare, Alassio [Liguria] August 15th
A very pretty festival in which small boats light up the sea with candles. Then there are fireworks.

Madonna della Madia [August 14th – 16th] Monopoli [Bari, Puglia]
A water festival in which locals re-enact the salvaging of a Byzantine icon of the Madonna that had been washed up on the beach in 1117.

Festa della Madonna del Ponte, Caltagirone [Sicily] August 15th
People make their way on their knees towards a statue of the crucified Christ.

Palio delle Contrade, Garda [Lombardy] August 15th
A horse race, a fishing regatta and a parade of locals in historical costumes.

Bruscello, Montepulciano [Tuscany]
A traditional show held on the Cathedral steps. The performers speak in rhyme.

Sagra del Tortello, Melo [Cutigliano, Pistoia, Tuscany] August 15th
Pasta festival. For further information please call: 3663610630

Festa del Mare, Termoli [Molise] August 15th
Greased pole and hot-air balloons in the morning; “burning” of the Castle at midnight.

Castelli [Abruzzo] August 15th
This town is famous for its ceramics and for ferragosto the inhabitants throw the rejects from a great height.

So not all of Italy will be asleep, after all!