Buon Ferragosto means Happy Ferragosto in Italian. . . but what’s Ferragosto? It’s one of Italy’s most important holidays, which falls on August 15th, smack in the hottest part of the summer. A good translation of Buon Ferragosto is Happy August 15th.
But what is it that Italians celebrate on August 15th? We’ll explore how and why Italians celebrate Ferragosto, its origins, and what is and isn’t open on this Italian holiday. You’ll learn how to pronounce Buon Ferragosto, and how to respond like an Italian.
You may like our post on the Best Times to Visit Italy: Month-by-Month.
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WHAT IS FERRAGOSTO?
For Italians, Ferragosto is synonymous with summer vacation! Pretty much the entire country shuts down on August 15th, except at the beach, in the mountains, or other summer vacation spots like lakes.
Not only that, a large part of Italy takes off the entire week, if not two or three, around Ferragosto. In fact, many Italians have to take their summer vacation at Ferragosto time, because the factories, businesses and firms where they work are closed. It’s a national Italian chain reaction: many businesses would stay open at ferragosto, but they go on vacation because their suppliers and the businesses they work with close down.
August 15th is Assumption Day, or the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, called La Festa dell’Assunta, or l’Assunzione della Beata Vergine Maria in Italian. On this holiday, Catholics celebrate when Mary, Jesus’ mother, was taken into heaven.
However, the Assumption was only recently declared official dogma of the Catholic church in 1950. Ferragosto’s roots can be traced back even farther into history, and it wasn’t always celebrated on August 15th.
In fact, according to Focus Junior magazine, Ferragosto goes back to 18 B.C., when the Roman Emperor Augustus instituted the rest period of feriae Augusti, or August rest. (The word Ferragosto derives from the Latin feriae Augusti). The pagan holiday was celebrated on August 1st, but the rest period lasted even for the whole month. Around the 7th century, pagan Ferragosto became entwined with the Catholic church’s celebration of the Assumption.
HOW DO ITALIANS CELEBRATE FERRAGOSTO?
Though it falls on a religious holiday and Catholics are supposed to go to mass, most Italians take the opportunity to head out of town on Ferragosto. Italy is usually extremely hot in the middle of August, so Italians flee the cities and head to the beach, mountains, lake or wherever they can cool off and relax. This means those places, like the beach, are PACKED.
An important Ferragosto ritual is il pranzo di Ferragosto, or Ferragosto lunch. This can be a big sit down meal, a barbecue (grigliata), or a picnic on the beach. As with Christmas in Italy and Easter, eating and drinking is an important part of celebrating, whether with family or friends.
Il Pranzo di Ferragosto, or Mid-August Lunch, is a 2008 film by Gianni Di Gregorio, which won the Luigi de Laurentiis Prize for Best Debut Film at the Venice Film Festival the same year. It is about a man named Gianni in his 60s who still lives with his mother in Rome. On Ferragosto he gets stuck taking care of his landlord’s mother and aunt, and his doctor’s mother, for a total of four elderly women, resulting in a great comedy.
WHAT’S OPEN ON FERRAGOSTO IN ITALY?
The short answer is: practically nothing. August 15 itself is a national public holiday, so public offices, businesses and supermarkets are closed. Don’t count on bars and restaurants being open either.
When my father and I were in Milan on Ferragosto, we ate at the only restaurant open in the entire neighborhood, and we were lucky to find it. It was suffocatingly hot, and the city was a ghost town.
In our small Tuscan town, most stores close for at least the entire week of Ferragosto, even though there are plenty of tourists staying in the area. However, most of the restaurants and bars stay open for them.
It’s a different story at the beach and in the mountains, however. Why? Because these are the places that Italians flock to when they close up their businesses in the city and go on their own Ferragosto vacation. Bars, restaurants and shops in Italian beach and mountain spots are open to accommodate all the Italians on Ferragosto break (as well as foreign tourists). However, don’t count on a place being open without double checking first.
Another exception is in cities where there are major festivals at Ferragosto time. Siena is a major example: the world famous Palio di Siena horse race is held the day after Ferragosto. The race takes place twice per summer on July 2nd and August 16th in the Piazza del Campo, the city’s main square. The Sienese, as well as tourists from all over the world, are in Siena at Ferragosto time to take part in this one-of-a-kind event.
HOW LONG IS FERRAGOSTO IN ITALY?
While Ferragosto is technically August 15th, Italians often say Ferragosto to refer to the entire week containing August 15th, and even the entire middle of August. Offices and businesses close, and city centers empty out.
HOW TO SAY BUON FERRAGOSTO
The pronunciation of Buon Ferragosto is: boo-OHN feh-rah-GOH-stoh
Listen to how to pronounce Buon Ferragosto here:
Buon means good in Italian, so buon Ferragosto is like saying (Have a) good August 15th, or Happy Ferragosto.
If you’re celebrating Ferragosto with friends or family, you can wish them Buon Ferragosto while making a toast, or brindisi at lunch. Since most Italians are away on vacation on Ferragosto, many Italians end up telling their friends and loved ones Buon Ferragosto over the phone, or by text message. If you’re in the city, you probably won’t run into many people to wish Buon Ferragosto to, since towns and cities are often deserted.
HOW TO RESPOND TO BUON FERRAGOSTO
The easiest way to respond when someone wishes you Buon Ferragosto is simply to say Buon Ferragosto back.
You can also say:
Same to you/Likewise!
You can also respond To you too! by saying:
Anche a te! (to someone you know well)
Anche a lei! (for an elder, or someone you must show extra respect to)
Anche a voi! (if you’re speaking to a group of people)