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ITALY EXPLAINED

Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy’s national summer holiday

Why is August 15th a holiday? The Local looks at the history behind Ferragosto, and how you can celebrate the day like an Italian.

Everything you need to know about Ferragosto, Italy's national summer holiday
Vacationers sunbathe at a private beach near Santa Margherita Ligure, southern Genova. In future, prices of sunbeds could be capped for beachgoers. (Photo by OLIVIER MORIN / AFP)

What are we celebrating?

As far as many people in Italy are concerned, August 15th is the height of summer – and that in itself is worth celebrating.

But the holiday has a very long history.

August 15th is when Catholics celebrate the Assumption, or the ascendance of the Virgin Mary into heaven. However, it was a holiday in Italy long before it took on a religious significance.

Ferragosto, the Italian name for the holiday, comes from the Latin Feriae Augusti (the festivals of the Emperor Augustus) which were introduced back in 18 BC, probably to celebrate a battle victory, and were celebrated alongside other ancient Roman summer festivals. These festivities were linked to the longer Augustali period – intended to be a period of rest after months of hard labour.

Ferragosto: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

In Roman times, the celebrations included horse races. Even today, Siena’s Palio dell’Assunta usually takes place on August 16th.

The holiday now combines both its ancient Roman and Catholic roots with marking the semi-official peak of Italy’s summer holiday season.

Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Where’s everybody gone?

It’s traditional to use the August long weekend to take a trip out of the city, usually escaping the heat at the seaside, lakes or mountains, so if you stay in town you’ll notice it’s much quieter than usual.

During the era of Fascism, the regime would organise trips with special offers for the 13th-15th August, the idea being that less well-off workers would get the opportunity to visit a different part of the country.

READ ALSO: Gelato, iced tea and escaping to the hills: How to survive an Italian summer in the city

Even today there are often discounts on packages for the Ferragosto weekend – though you may find that train tickets and hotel rooms sell out fast.

And of course, many Italian families go away on longer vacations at this time of year too.

Will everything be closed?

If you didn’t have the foresight to book a trip of your own, you may be wondering how to make the most of the day.

Usually, bank holidays mean total shutdown even in major towns and cities, with everything from post offices to public transport closed, and that’s the same on August 15th.

And as we mentioned earlier it’s the start of Italy’s holiday season, meaning you’ll see ‘chiuso per ferie’ signs popping up all over the place.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

However, unlike many other public holidays, on Ferragosto a large number of museums and cultural sites remain open.

So it’s an excellent time to visit major attractions such as the Colosseum, Pantheon or Galleria Borghese if you’re in the capital, or one of the many museums and sites across the rest of Italy.

Ferragosto is also usually celebrated with special church services and religious processions, as well as fireworks displays and other events.

While these were cancelled over the precious two summers due to Covid-19, events and gatherings can go ahead restriction-free this year.

But the most traditional way to celebrate of all is with a big family lunch.

For this reason, you’ll see many restaurants remain open on this date, at least at lunchtime, and may even offer special Ferragosto menus for the occasion.

Member comments

  1. Funny thing is: in all my time spent in Italy, the 15th August always had the feeling of the ‘beginning of the end’ of the long summer holidays. A special day, with that hint of sadness that soon it will be all over and it’s back to work and school.

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ITALY EXPLAINED

Why the great autumn wardrobe switch is serious business in Italy

Some of Italy’s foreign residents may still be wearing t-shirts, but Italians are preparing for the most stressful style-related event of the year: the summer-to-autumn wardrobe switch. Silvia Marchetti explains what it’s all about.

Why the great autumn wardrobe switch is serious business in Italy

People have always said to me that Italians stand out (particularly abroad) because of the way they dress, the style of their clothes, the designer labels, the gorgeous bags and shoes. 

But it’s not because they really do dress better than others, rather they are extremely picky about what they wear, and when they wear it, at which precise time of the year. 

Italians are dead serious about adapting their dress code to the different seasons in response to dropping or rising temperatures. The ‘wardrobe switch’ is a major event that consumes entire days of a family’s weekends or spare time. From the kids to granny, all must change their apparel. I remember my grandparents used to mark it on their calendar, a bit like when you have to take the car for the annual check called the tagliando

There are four major wardrobe switches, as many as the seasons. The most tiring is the summer-to-autumn one, which usually occurs mid-September when the summer heat abates. 

Summer clothes are taken out of the closet and laid on the bed, then autumn apparel is plucked out from an upper closet space and neatly laid on the other side of the bed to be scrutinized. 

READ ALSO: Pumpkin risotto and the great wardrobe switch: How life in Italy changes when autumn arrives

It’s then time to do some clearing out: the switch is the time to try on autumn clothes and see if they still fit or are no longer wanted or liked (meaning you’ll be shopping for new ones). 

This stage can take hours, if not days. Jackets, which usually take up more space and are kept in the cellar or attic, are also cleaned of dust and tried on. 

Photo: Dan Gold/Unsplash

The summer apparel is then packed away and replaced by the autumn clothes, which are laid out in the same spot where the t-shirts and shorts once were. The same goes for shoe switches. Back in the box with those flip-flops, which are a major no-no after September 20th, and back on the shelves for boots and sneakers. 

When an Italian decides that summer is over, summer is over even if it’s still 25 degrees outside. My boyfriend just switched from shorts to trousers, even though he’s sweating most of the time. 

And it may seem that there’s a particular dress code that everyone follows. Autumn calls for ‘camicette’ shirts, light leather jackets, jeans, and bright little stylish scarves in silk or cotton to protect against the first potential cold air. Rain coats and casual jackets dubbed spolverini (dusters) are also taken out of storage.

The motto is ‘vestirsi a cipolla’, meaning ‘to dress like an onion’, with layers of shirts and sweaters that can be peeled off throughout the day depending on temperature swings. 

READ ALSO: Ten Italian lifestyle habits to adopt immediately

It’s a way to avoid sweating at noon or getting too cold in the evenings. But it’s also a stylish dressing habit to show that we are fully equipped, including financially, to cope with the changing seasons. If you don’t buy at least one new item of clothing per season, that’s just ‘not cool’.

A ‘booster’ wardrobe switch happens again in December, when the piumini, or hardcore winter ‘duvet’ coats, and knitted wool sweaters are taken out to reinforce the autumn apparel. 

Even if it never gets that cold in Italy compared to some countries, Italians still like to wear wool hats, gloves and some even wear furs, heavy boots and mountain-climbing uniforms – perhaps just for the sake of showing off some of their cool skiing apparel. 

Whether in autumn, winter, spring, or summer, the wardrobe switch is also an excuse to go shopping. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Then when spring arrives, winter clothes disappear and autumn attire starts mixing with some t-shirts, sleeveless jackets, and lighter cotton pants. 

But it’s still too early to wear shorts for men or skirts without stockings for women: showing off white bare legs is so unstylish.

Alas, when it’s finally summer, flip flops and sandals pop out again and the switch is an occasion to throw away unwanted summer clothes from the previous year and buy new bikinis, skirts, tank tops and fancy colorful shirts. This can be quite painful if you happen to have gained weight during the cold months. 

Italians are serious about wardrobe changes given their reaction even to just slight temperature drops or hikes.

I know that for foreigners seeing Italians wearing coats now in September even if it’s not yet so cold can be quite shocking in the same way it is for Italians to see Americans or Germans wearing t-shirts in December. 

READ ALSO: ‘Five ways a decade of living in Italy has changed me’

But climate change is disrupting the traditional wardrobe switch. My granny used to say that the so-called ‘middle seasons’ in Italy which are those between summer and winter (she meant autumn and spring) were luckily very long and pleasant. But nowadays even Italy has very short springs and autumns. In recent years there’s been a sudden jump from hot summers to half-winter seasons. 

This affects the way Italians are dressing, as I see fewer leather jackets around or raincoats unless it’s actually raining. The other day I was swimming in a pool and in the afternoon when I came back home there was a strong wind and I had to put on my piumino (long duvet coat) plus a hat. 

Luckily I have a huge walk-in closet so the left part is for winter, the right part is for summer and in between are all those items that used to fall within my granny’s ‘middle seasons’. So I always have everything at hand to cope even with the uncontrolled effects of climate change.

Friends of mine are already going into depression because they’re planning the wardrobe switch for next weekend – but they already miss the summer and don’t want to give up on the sexy shorts and elegant sandals. 

There’s no doubt about it: when it comes to clothes, most Italians can be very fussy indeed.

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