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The Ferragosto Holiday

Randy H. Sooknanan Elvira Valentina Resta

Art & History Writers

'Ferragosto' is a public holiday celebrated every August 15th throughout all of Italy. It originates from Feriae Augusti, the festival of emperor Augustus, who made the 1st of August a day of rest after many weeks of hard work in the agricultural sector during ancient times.

Anyone who has traveled to Italy at least once in August knows that Italians love to go on vacation this month and on the 15th they celebrate the “Ferragosto”, a day dedicated to parties with relatives and friends with good food. But what is the origin of this festival? The name of the feast of Ferragosto derives from the Latin 'feriae Augusti' (meaning the rest of Augustus), in honor of Octavian Augustus, the first Roman emperor, from whom the month of August takes its name.


Roman Emperor Augustus (left) & the god Neptune (right) worshipped by the Romans also as a god of horses, under the name Neptunus Equester, a patron of horse-racing

It was a period of rest and celebrations, established by the emperor himself in 18 BC, which originated from the tradition of the Consualia, festivals that celebrated the end of agricultural work, dedicated to Consus, who, for the Romans, was the god of granaries and supplies and were celebrated on August 21 during the harvest period. All the rites for Consualia were celebrated in front of an underground altar of the Circus Maximus, and then, were brought to the surface for the occasion of a great feast. This altar symbolizes the seed, which is first hidden in the earth, subsequently comes out of it, and then becomes prosperous. The god Consus was also identified with Neptunus Equestris (Latin) or the god Neptune who was the protector of equines (horses), which are a symbol of the ancient myth that saw the god offering a horse as a gift to Athenians. Throughout the empire, parties, along with horse, donkey, or mule races were organized, and all non-competing draft animals were adorned with flowers and did not work on that day.


Circus Maximus horse racing

It was also customary that, in these days, the peasants wished the owners of the land their best wishes and received a tip in return. In ancient times, as a pagan festival, it was celebrated on August 1st. But the days of rest (and celebration) were in fact many more: even the whole month, with day 13, in particular, dedicated to the goddess Diana.

Now, today, Ferragosto is still celebrated in all of Italy as the festivities have been maintained for political reasons and have even taken on some religious significance as well. This is because August 15th is also when Roman Catholics celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven - the day when Catholics believe Mary ascended to heaven "body and soul" after the end of her life on earth. The Catholic Church decided, long after the era of Augustus to move their festivity to the 15th of August, thus allowing them to be included in the overall celebrations.

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