It’s August 15, meaning it’s time to celebrate one of Italy’s favorite public holidays with proclamations of ‘buon Ferragosto a tutti.’

Today, Italian Roman Catholics celebrate the ascendency of the Virgin Mary to heaven. But ‘Ferragosto’ wasn’t always about Mary.

Festivities involve parades, feasts, live music and fireworks, and take place up and down the country.

Here’s what you need to know to join in!

People escorting "Our Lady of Assumption" during the annual procession
“Martina Franca, Italy – August 16, 2012: Scene from the traditional Procession of Our Lady of the Assumption: every year on mid-August the Christi…

Where does the name ‘Ferragosto’ come from?

The name ‘Ferragosto’ is a direct derivative of the original Latin name of the festival – ‘Feriae Augusti.’

‘Feriae Augusti’ means “Holidays of the Emperor Augustus.” The festival dates back to the reign of, you guessed it, Caesar Augustus (aka Octavian), the first Roman emperor.

He reigned from 27 BCE to 14 AD, the year of his death. Augustus introduced the Feriae Augusti nine years into his rule as an addition to earlier ancient Roman festivals that took place around the same time. Such was his influence that to this day, we still name an entire month after him.

The idea was to link and consolidate the ‘Visalia rustica’ and ‘Consualia’ festivities and add on one more to create a longer period of rest. It also served a propaganda function – he could’ve called it anything else, after all, but he chose to name it after himself.

Portrait of Caesar Augustus, Rome Italy

What is the meaning of ‘buon Ferragosto a tutti’ and how do you say it in English?

So, the word ‘Ferragosto’ comes from the original Latin name of the holiday. You can see how ‘Feriae Augusti’ becomes ‘Ferragosto.’

The Italian words ‘buon’ and ‘tutti’ directly translate to “good” and “all” respectively, meaning the whole phrase ‘buon Ferragosto a tutti’ translates to “good ‘Ferragosto’ to all,” or “happy mid-August to everybody.”

It’s a way of wishing everybody a happy festival.

During Roman times, workers would greet their masters during ‘Ferragosto,’ who in return would give them a tip. This custom became so ingrained that in the Renaissance period that it was made compulsory in the Papal States. Also called the States of the Church, the Papal States were a series of territories in modern-day Italy that were under the direct sovereign rule of the pope. 

Festa di Ferragosto in Prato della Valle

How do people celebrate the holiday?

When it first came about, the ‘Feriae Augusti’ was about resting after the hard labor of the summer months. Celebrations involved horse races and decorating oxen and mules with flowers.

Some of these traditions live on today. Siena sees the ‘Palio di Siena’ take place on July 2 and August 16 every year. The latter of the two dates has the name ‘Palio dell’Assunta,’ in honor of the Assumption of Mary. It’s been running since 1633, or for 389 years.

During the Italian Fascist era, in the 1920s through to the early 1940s, Mussolini’s regime organised trips for less affluent families in mid August.

Tickets were cheap so that everyone could go away, according to RomeWise. Celebrants often went the seaside or up into the mountains.

The Capture | Series 2 Trailer | BBC

The Capture | Series 2 Trailer | BBC

What should you say in response to ‘buon Ferragosto a tutti’?

If someone says ‘buon Ferragosto a tutti’ or ‘buon Ferragosto a tutti voi’ (‘voi’ means “you,” so ‘buon Ferragosto a tutti voi’ just means “good ‘Ferragosto’ to you all”), what should you say back to them?

One thing you could say is ‘buon Ferragosto anche a te,’ which means “good mid-August to you, too.”

But often, the person saying the phrase isn’t directing it at one specific person. It contains the word ‘tutti,’ which means “all” or “everybody.”

So you could just echo the phrase. Direct it to everybody, and hope that it catches on. Buon Ferragosto a tutti!

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