It’s August 16th now, but a good chunk of Italian citizens might still be suffering from an August 14th hangover. August 15th is Ferragosto – the assumption of the Virgin Mary, according to the Roman Catholic Calendar. The 15th sees Italians enjoying a leisurely holiday lunch and heading to mass. But the night before Ferragosto is celebrated in such a wild, drunken free-for-all, you’d think that the Ferragosto holiday had Pagan roots.
Oh, wait. It does? Well, what good holiday doesn’t?
Ferragosto, an ancient Roman festival, may have been associated with the end of summer and the goddess Diana – symbolizing fertility and fruition. Modern Ferragosto is similarly celebrated, especially the fertility part. Traditions vary throughout the boot, but in my area of Italy, Ferragosto means one thing: beach party. And get wasted. Okay, make that two things.
Pick a Party. Any party. In the days leading up to Ferragosto, the Facebook announcements will start: Hungry Like the Wolf Ferragosto Party at Romulus & Remus Bar featuring Duran Duran Cover Band! and the like. Fights have been known to break out between friends when deciding what to do for Ferragosto, so make sure to weigh your options carefully. What’s the entertainment? Who’s spinning? Is there a cover? What’s the crowd like? How are the drinks? Or, if you have an appropriate space, avoid the madness and throw a private party of your own. But what’s the fun in that?
Dress Appropriately. No underwear allowed on Ferragosto – put on a swimsuit instead. But what goes on top? Ferragosto is an end of summer party, so while all manners of dress will be welcome, keep in mind that the crowd might well get crazy. Last year, I wore a pretty red tropical-flowered dress, but ended up covered in beer. This year, I wore a cute black-and-white striped jersey dress and ended up covered in wine.
Next year, I’m wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Animals!
Ditch the Car Parking and traffic will be sheer misery on Ferragosto night – not to mention the danger of drunk drivers – so if you can, choose a party that’s close enough to get to on foot. If not, carpool to cut down on parking costs.
Line Your Stomach. It’s traditional to head out for dinner on Ferragosto night – pizza, something fish-based like insalata di mare or spaghetti alle vongole – and beach barbecues are also common. Whether you fill yourself with sea creatures or cheesy dough, just make sure to eat enough to prepare yourself for the drinking ahead.
Get Pagan. I’ll leave this open to interpretation. Make new friends. Drink your head off. Dance on the sand. Flirt with the band leader. Rescue your friends from making life-altering mistakes with jerks on the seashore. Or not. Make the mistakes yourself.
Watch the Fireworks. The fireworks will start around midnight, so try to tear yourself away from the conga line to sit a spell and enjoy them.
Jump in the Sea at Midnight. Il bagno di mezzanotte is probably the most beloved of beachside Ferragosto traditions. When the clock strikes twelve, disrobe and join the other revelers in the water. A combination of August heat and alcohol will make the nighttime waters feel refreshing, not chilly. Stand in the waves. Watch the fireworks ahead. It’s good to be a pagan.
Sleep on the Sand Another Ferragosto tradition; once the swimming and the drinking and the barbecuing is done, camp out on the sand. It’s common to see tents and blankets all set up on the shore for the sandy nap. Or just collapse on the sand. No biggie.
Watch the Sunrise If you’ve gone the sand nap route, you’ll no doubt be woken up by the pink and purple dawn. There’s no sunrise like a beach sunrise. Here’s hoping you’re not too hungover to appreciate it. Or Ferragosto Day lunch. Have fun explaining your hangover to your great-aunt Malvina.
What are your favorite Ferragosto traditions?
All photos by Eva Sandoval