The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus' rest), which is a celebration introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BC. This was an addition to already extant ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month, such as the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor. The ancient Ferragosto, in addition to obvious self-celebratory political purposes, had the purpose of linking the main August festivities to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labour of the previous weeks.
During these celebrations, horse races were organised across the Empire, and beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules), were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Such ancient traditions are still alive today, virtually unchanged in their form and level of participation during the Palio dell'Assunta which takes place on 16 August in Siena. Indeed the name "Palio" comes from the pallium, a piece of precious fabric which was the usual prize given to winners of the horse races in ancient Rome.
The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose during Fascism. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organised hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organisations of various corporations, and via the setting up of the "People's Trains of Ferragosto", which were available at discounted prices.
The initiative gave the opportunity to less well-off social classes to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to 13, 14 and 15 August, and comprised two options: the "One-Day Trip", within a radius of 50-100 km, and the "Three-Day Trip" within a radius of about 100–200 km.
For many families, it was only during these trips that they saw the sea, mountains, and Italy's many artistic marvels for the first time. Moreover, since the trips did not include food, the connected tradition of the packed lunch arose.
Ferragosto in religion
The Catholic Church celebrates this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary— what they believe to be the actual physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven.
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- Michele Ventrella, Gite fuori porta a Ferragosto, Corriere del Mezzogiorno, 14 agosto 2012
- Alberto De Bernardi, Una dittatura moderna: il fascismo come problema storico, Paravia, Milano, 2001