I have already made a post about the business hours in Italy, which are full of huge gaps in the afternoon (and sometimes just seem to be chosen on a whim day by day), but today I want to talk about one of the first things I noticed when I came to Italy: the whole country practically shuts down in August.
Obviously this just seems like a bad business strategy to us Americans, but in the end the reason for it is a nice one: all of Italy goes on vacation.
We have Ferragosto to thank for this, a holiday that has come to be synonymous with summer vacation here in Italy. Here’s a look at what it means in general, and what it means for us Americans living in Italy.
A Brief History of Ferragosto
Ferragosto is a holiday celebrated on August 15th every year. Celebration on the day itself typically includes (as you might have guessed) big meals and time spent with family, traditionally in a picnic-like setting.
The origins of the holiday are two-fold. At first, the holiday was celebrated on August 1, a day set aside by Roman emperor Caesar Augustus in 18 BC to be a day of rest for his subjects after months of hard work in the fields, as well as to celebrate his victory over Marc Antony in the Battle of Actium. Everyone got the day off, even horses! Workers who wished their employers “buon ferragosto” would get a nice bonus paycheck in return – not a bad system, I’d say!
After a while, the Catholic Church wanted to make the holiday less political and more religious, so they moved it to August 15, the same day as the Assumption of Mary, Jesus Christ’s mother.
Mussolini also used this holiday as an opportunity to let lower-class people travel around to cultural sites or to the beach for a few days. There were special “holiday trains” set aside for this purpose, but vacationers still had to pay for their own hotels and food, which is why to this day the holiday is associated with picnics and hand-packed lunches instead of lavish, expensive fare.
Nowadays, a holiday that started as just one to three days long has now become an excuse to take a full week off work (at least) and go on a vacation. Most Italian employers give their employees time off on the week of the 15th, and many employees often save up their vacation days and take time off before and after that week, sometimes making their vacation last all August long.
What Ferragosto Means for Americans in Italy
To Italians, Ferragosto means time off and food and festivals (if you have a Green Pass) and good times spent with family and friends. It can mean those things for us Americans too… but some of us might also find it a bit aggravating at times, because it also means that almost every bureaucratic office (and many other offices and businesses) are closed for weeks or more, making it nearly impossible to get anything done.
I, for example, am going back to America for my nephew’s first birthday this August (the worst time to travel to or from Italy, just F.Y.I.), and I am having a very difficult time finding a clinic that will be open to give me a COVID test before I go! I also got behind on paperwork I had to do for my carta di soggiorno last year because everything was closed. So the lesson here is to try to work it out so that you don’t have to do any important or time-limited business during the month of August!
This is also prime tourist time: so expect plane ticket prices to skyrocket and beaches and other places tourists might frequent to be jam-packed as the locals join with visitors from abroad to all go on a collective vacation all at the same time.
But, as long as you don’t mind crowds and you plan your bureaucratic document-collecting properly, you can really enjoy yourself as (almost literally) all of Italy takes one big vacation together.
What are your thoughts on Ferragosto? Let us know in the comments!