Although ferragosto started out as a pagan holiday by the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, it has been transformed over the years into both a Catholic and public holiday in Italy. Celebrated on August 15th, ferragosto is, next to Christmas, Easter and New Years, probably the most important holiday in Italy. The entire country shuts down on the 15th to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. Whether they are at the beach (since most of Italy shuts down for the month of August) vacationing or at home, families will gather together in celebration and, of course, with food. Because, as always, it is another occasion for a festive meal. Interestingly enough, along with family get togethers there is lots of other excitement going on in Italy around that date.
On August 16, there is the renowned Palio di Siena. This is a great horse race that is one of the most well-known historic festivals in Italy. It takes place in in Siena’s Piazza di Campo. The race draws a crown of about 33,000 in reserved seats with an additional 28,000 in allotted standing room. This doesn’t include those watching from windows and rooftops. Race day always starts with a special mass. The race itself is only about 1,000 meters and lasts less than 3 minutes. But the preparation is weeks. In Rome there is the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto which fills several squares with live dance performances. Liguria celebrates with a sea festival and fireworks while Multipulciano holds a historical pageant. This is definitely a family time and one the children look forward to.
A few years ago on one of our trips to Italy we were fortunate to be in Montefolonico in time for ferragosto. I have mentioned before that I have family in that little town and they live in the house that my Dad lived in before he immigrated to America. The day started with a special mass at Chiesa del Triano. A beautiful little church built in the 16th century. Unfortunately because of its age it is only opened for mass on August 15th to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. On other days there is the Chiesa de San Leonardo. After mass and walking around the little town greeting people we joined my cousin Andrea and his family; wife Cristina, and sons Lorenzo, Riccardo and Roberto for lunch. Cristina is a wonderful cook and the meal consisted of many courses – antipasto, pasta, grilled meats and dessert. Later in the afternoon we wandered up the hill with the boys to the local pub for ice cream we had promised them as a celebration treat. Somehow there is always room for ice cream. Later in the evening we all traveled to the next town to enjoy fireworks. A totally enjoyable day and for us an exciting ferragosto.
Here are a few recipes you might find interesting to try as you celebrate your own ferragosto: