Vita Gazette

News from Italy

Vacanze di Augusto

by Andira Vitale

Mid-August, whose origins date back to the pagans, as a gift to the Italians of the Roman emperor Augustus, continues his glittering journey that began before Christ.

Anyone who has travelled to Italy at least once in August knows that Italians love to go on vacation this month. On the 15th, they celebrate “Ferragosto”, a day dedicated to parties with relatives and friends with good food. But what is the origin of this festival? Is that what it means?

The name of the feast of Ferragosto derives from the Latin Augusti (rest of Augustus), in honour of the first Roman emperor Octavian Augustus, from which the month of August took its name. From the day it was born,  it continues to shine like a “timeless star” decorated with political, social and religious motifs. Today Ferragosto has two distinct meanings for Italians. The first derives from the Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven on August 15, and the other derives from the period of social rest that the emperor Augustus gave his people.

When we think that Ferragosto continues to write the history of human history by taking summer holidays under his wing, we are talking about a festival whose origins date back to the pagans. In ancient times it was customary to “sacrifice blood” to the gods of fertility presided over by women. This victim would usually be an animal or a human. So the ancients held creepy rituals for fear that something might go wrong with the sun and the weather. The purpose was to appease the mysterious and capricious gods our ancestors had responsible for natural events and to convey their desires for abundance, fertility and continuation of life. As civilisation developed, ceremonies evolved from solemn bargaining and pacification ceremonies to thanksgiving celebrations.

Vinalia Rustica

For example, Venüs, the goddess of love and beauty, whose current characteristics are attributed to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, was initially thought to be associated with gardens and fruits. For this reason, the grape harvest and wine festivals were celebrated, starting from April, the beginning of spring and fertility. Held on August 19th, Vinalia Rustica is the oldest known wine festival of the goddess Venüs. In these feasts, people prayed for the abundance of the harvest and the taste of wine, sacrifices were made, and dinners were celebrated to express gratitude.

Diana Festival

In Roman mythology, Diana was the “virgin” goddess of the moon, hunting, girls and childbirth. Equivalent to Artemis in Greek mythology. The Diane Festival, Torch or Nemoralia, was celebrated from 13 to 15 August. This festival, celebrated for the first time at the Temple of Diana in Lake Nemi, soon began to be observed everywhere. Many thread strings were hung on a wall around the lake, and the tablets were presented to the Goddess. Among the offerings to the goddess, were written messages related to trees, terracotta figurines showing the diseased part of the body, images of mothers with children and statues of deer, which are symbols of the goddess. Especially at the moon’s rising, silent wishes were transmitted to the goddess Diana, accompanied by torches. Even if it is not listened to, the common thing about these wishes is the desire for abundance, health and rebirth …

Consualia Festival

According to legend, Conso was the annual god of vegetation. His temple was also underground. This tomb, covered with earth, was opened once a year. The grain and supplies belonged to him. Collected cereals were stored in underground cellars. In Ancient Rome, on August 21, the celebrations were held in honour of the god Conso, accepted as the god of the wheat germ, and to protect himself from disasters. Legend has it that the Circus Maximus was an excavated underground altar, and Conso ploughs it. On August 21, horse and chariot races were held, and drinks were poured into the flames that consumed the victims. During these festive games, horses and mules decorated with flowers and garlands could not do any work. The goal was to please the god Cosmos and fill the barn with wheat.

A new twist

It occurred when the Senate declared Emperor Augustus venerable and holy in 18 BC. On this occasion, the honoured Augustus granted a period of celebration to his people, tired during the harvest period, to rest. But he combined festivals such as Vinalia Rustica, Diana, or Nemoralia and Consualia, proclaiming the Feriae Augusti. In the festivities of Ferragosto, which began on August 15th, the mounts and the flowered races took over. The Palio races, still held in Siena in August, continue this tradition that began in Ancient Rome.

These August holidays then began to bring out a tradition: workers and servants went for the occasion to offer their wishes to masters and superiors, who gave them a tip in money or goods.

The Fascist period added another colour to the Ferragosto period. During this time, inexpensive travel packages were organised so low-income groups could go to the seaside, the mountains and hot springs. Special express trains have been put into service for these journeys. During August, the demand was so high that the trains began to be called “Trains of August”. And trips out of town were becoming an increasingly characteristic feature of the August holiday.

The economic crisis and internal migration were also growing as a phenomenon that strengthened the character of Ferragosto. Due to the migration from the south to the industrial cities of the north, from small towns to large cities, many Italian workers saw August as an opportunity to return to their homeland.

The increase in the well-being of the Italian population and the changing culture of tourism has also prompted many families to travel during the summer, taking advantage of the Christmas holidays to visit places in the rest of Italy and around the world. This has made Ferragosto a starting point for many. Today it continues its institutionalised magic. On August 15th, Italians enjoy the unique gifts and legends that nature offers them to the fullest … They continue with feriae Augusti …

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