#58 All is fair in love and Ferragosto
Italy has an abundant amount of public holidays, ranging from the usual stuff like New Year's Day and padded out with things like Liberation Day (25th April), International workers day (1st May) and Republic Day (2nd June).
Not to mention a fine cavalcade of religious celebrations, including the Epiphany (6th January), All Saint's Day (1st November) and the Immaculate Conception (8th December). In addition, each city and town gets their local holiday to celebrate their patron Saint (Rome, for example, celebrates St Peter and Paul on 29th June, and Milan gets Saint Ambrose on 7th December.)
But the most sacred of all holidays is the midsummer Ferragosto vacation which Italians look forward to every year with a heightened fervent desire.
The word Ferragosto comes from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus' rest), a celebration introduced by Augustus in 18 BC. Ferragosto was added to the preexisting Roman festivals associated with the summer harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labour.
During the harvest and work celebrations, horse races were held across the Empire, and beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules), were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Such ancient traditions are still alive today, reflected by the many Palio celebrations around Italy, the most famous on 16th August at Siena. Indeed the name Palio comes from the word pallium, a piece of precious fabric that was the usual prize given to winners of the horse races.
The modern habit of taking a trip during Ferragosto came about during the Fascist period in Italy. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organised hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organisations. 'People's Trains' for Ferragosto were available at discounted prices.
I recall my first Summer alone in Italy when I found myself stuck in Bologna between finishing work on an Opera festival and starting the semester at the University of Bologna. I was alone for the entire month of August. I didn't know anyone in the city which suddenly became a ghost town, as every second store closed for the ferie.
Bologna isn't a touristy town, so it wasn't like being in Florence or Rome, filled with people all year round. Bologna suddenly became a lonely place. I hadn't calculated this strange cultural summer occurrence.
Even during a worldwide pandemic, Italians refuse to give up their summer vacations. Beachside hotels are full; people trapped up north have suddenly made the pilgrimage to their extended lost relatives in the South.
This year in my little Sicilian village, I've seen houses that have been closed for years suddenly occupied by summer visitors, so the Summer is well and truly back. Not to mention the mind boggling amount of foreigners in Europe this year.
In Italy the 15th August is also a holy feast celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin Mary when Madonna's sinless soul and incorruptible body were taken to heaven.
Many cities in Sicily have the Virgin of the Assumption as their patron or protector. For now, there aren't any significant gatherings, but there are usually elaborate parades and celebrations from Randazzo to Messina, Capo d'Orlando, Motta d'Affermo, Novara di Sicilia and Montagnareale.
Like most Italians, Sicilians celebrate the mezzo-agosto holiday with copious food, picnicking in the mountains or making bomb fire barbecues on the beach. Summer is usually the peak food festival or sagra season, which offers up tastes of local cuisine.
Italy is coming out to the other end of a heat wave, with its hottest Summer on record and many parts of Italy, and the Mediterranean are recovering from the worst bushfire season.
Generally, the nation is stripping down into vacation mode, from suits to speedos and loud shirts, just like every Summer.
Italians are 'in ferie' or on holiday this month because it's their sacred rite.
I hate to be long-winded, so I will stop here for now.
I'll keep trying to write something here as often as I can.
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with love from Sicily
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