The month of August & Ferragosto
-By Diana Maiola
The summer month of August is upon us. For many around the globe and in normal non-Covid-19 circumstances, it is the perfect time to take that last-minute vacation with the family or squeeze in a festive gathering around the BBQ. August is typically one of the warmer months of the year and here in Italy, most people abandon the city and take refuge at the beach or run to the mountains for some fresh mountain air. Local festivals are common and everything is celebrated from holy saints to peaches, truffles and wine. Famous song writers and musicians perform free concerts in modern stadiums or in ancient ruins that get temporarily fitted with a stage, lights and seating. The most important day of the month for the Italians is the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption. In many towns mass is attended and then the streets fill with the locals as a procession devoted the Mother Mary passes by. This is a national holiday and with the exception of many restaurants, most everything is closed. This is a day that restaurants offer special multi course set menus that may begin at 1 pm and not end until 5:30 or 6 pm in the evening. These festive meals are always served in sit down fashion. The antipasti can vary from a variety of 7-12 different items to nibble on and the pasta courses are at least 2. The meat or fish course will be abundant and include a nice choice of side dishes. After a break a little walk or leg stretching, it is back to the table for fresh fruit, dessert and espresso as well as limoncello or some other type of digestive liquor. Teens on the other hand, organize huge picnics with dozens if not hundreds of participants. This is known as a “scampagnata”. Of course, their mammas are up cooking the night before and pasta is a must as well as roasted sausage, poultry and vegetables. If the event is near a water source like a stream, everyone will be sure to get tossed in at least once at some point during the day.
Now let’s discuss the feast of the assumption itself. According to Christian belief, the tradition of the feast day of the Assumption of Mary is the day that God assumed the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her life. However, and very interestingly, the origins of this celebration started in pre-Christian times with the ancient Romans. During that time, it was a Pagan Feast known as “Ferragosto”. In Latin it is known as Feriae Augusti and it was the Emperor Augustus, who in the year 18 BC made the 1st of August a day of rest after weeks and weeks of hard work in the fields. Workers received a monetary gift or bonus and it became a custom for the workers to wish their employers a “Buon Ferragosto." Horse races and festivities were organized across the entire Roman Empire and beasts of burden such as cows, oxen, mules and donkeys were decorated with fresh flowers and given a rest. During Renaissance times, the Catholic Church moved the official date of Ferragosto to August 15 to coincide with the Assumption of Mary.
Unfortunately, all around the world since the advent of the global Pandemic, gatherings including festivals, weddings, concerts, parties etc, have been cancelled or postponed.
Here in Italy the much- anticipated festivals have already been cancelled or are not going to happen this year. In some cities and towns to pacify the very devout, the local priest arranged for the statue of Mary or another favorite saint to be taken out of storage and a select few mask-clad parishioners took a brisk walk through the main streets carrying the statue so that locals could stand on their balconies and say a prayer as it passed by. In our beloved Cleveland, the feast of the Assumption which takes place in August has been cancelled for the first time in 121 years! This gives us all the more reason to anticipate next years’ festivities.
2020 is more than half over. In a month it will be September and then before we know it, it will be the holidays!! Looking forward to 2021!