Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Ferr'Agosto!!! 15 Agosto

The Roman emperor Augustus so enjoyed late summer that he claimed as his own the month we now call by his name.  He ordered month-long festivities, called feriae augustus, which included games, races, and rituals to honor the goddess Diana, who was worshiped as queen of the fields as well as of heaven and earth. Augustus was equally enamored with the beguiling island of Capri, which he appropriated from the municipality of Naples in exchange for the nearby island of Ischia.
With the rise of Christianity and the suppression of pagan feasts, August 15 became a religious holiday commemorating the assumption or lifting into heaven of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Over the centuries various communities developed special ways of honoring the Madonna.  In the Sardinian town of Sassari men carrying elaborately decorated wood columns dance through the streets.  Messina’s townspeople construct La Vara, a fantastic sixty-foot-high pyramid from which stars, clouds and figures of saints dangle. At one time young boys dressed as angels and apostles were hoisted into the air by rings attached to La Vara. As part of the ceremonies a young girl representing the Virgin Mary freed a prisoner. 
According to a Neapolitan legend, local fishermen once pulled a portrait of the Madonna from the sea, and their king ordered a church built around it at the beach.  On August 15, which became known as the Festa della Nzegna, everyone was tossed into the water. The night before the faithful ate only watermelon but feasted on sumptuous desserts the next day.
In the late  Renaissance, Rome’s governors flooded the splendid Piazza Navona for festivities that included fake fish splashing in the water and young boys diving for coins. As darkness fell, candles and torches glistened, and Romans enjoyed lavish dinners called sabatine (little Saturday feasts). Today many will have a Pranzo de Ferr'Agosto as we did in Pesaro on the Adriatic every year. 
Times have changed. Now a national holiday, Ferragosto marks the height of the Italian vacation season. In cities and towns many businesses, banks, restaurants and shops close; residents shut up their apartments and flock to the beaches. Seaside villages often end the day’s festivities with spectacular displays of  fireworks (fuochi d’artificio). 

This little clip of the famous Italian movie Pranzo di Ferr'Agosto by Gianni di Gregorio illustrates well what it is like in Italy on that day, a lunch with friends and relatives. I found it delightful because it mirrored our lives. Though we preferred to spend our vacation by the seaside.

But amid all the gaiety some Italians suffer a sad fate. Because of their jobs or finances, they  must remain in the deserted cities. And so the phrase “ferragosta in citta” has come to mean a bleak, unhappy situation.
May you have a wonderful Ferr'Agosto! Auguri a tutti!


  1. I'm intrigued by that movie clip. Having never seen the movie, I wonder about the life of that solitary middle-aged man who is so gentle, attentive and kind to a tableful of old ladies.

    1. It's a funny movie and was shot in his mother's apartment in Rome. The story line is simple but so true of the lives of so many Italians and aged relatives. You should try to find it, it is simply wonderful. You know in Italy family still stick together and helping each other is the way to go, something we have forgotten here.

  2. this sounds like a movie i would like to watch! coincidentally, august 16th is pop star madonna's birthday. ha!