The Feast of Assumption is a Christian celebration of the Virgin Mary’s bodily ascent to heaven. Celebrations in Italy typically include parades, fireworks, and pageantry. Many families will also include a feast of items from the summer harvest, perhaps using berries for dessert.
In the third and early fourth centuries AD, apocryphal (widely believed but not official) writings mused upon the Dormition/Assumption of Mary, none of them attaining the status of dogmatic belief. Then, in the fourth century, the bishop Epiphanius of Salamis wrote about the varying philosophies concerning the nature of the Virgin Mary’s passing on, identifying three factions of belief but remaining unable to establish a broad consensus. He concluded, “No one knows her end.” By the eighth century, an apocryphal text called the “Transitus Mariae” had become so generally accepted that John of Damascus was able to establish its storyline with the church as the official story from that point forward.
In the West, also in the eighth century, Pope Sergius I encouraged celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption, and Pope Leo IV confirmed the Feast as official.
The holiday has not only survived but also has thrived to this day, despite the church never having pointed to any concrete historical or explicit Biblical evidence (the Biblical citations being only metaphorical), nor fully admitting the story’s reliance on apocrypha.
Ferragosto comes from the festivals of the Emperor Augustus, in honor of the first Roman emperor, Octavian Augustus. By the way, he also gave his name to the month of August. It was first introduced in 18 BC to mark the end of the harvest and celebrate Augustus’ victory in key battles at the time. The date was also the feast day of the goddess Diana, who was celebrated for no less than thirteen days.
It is a very important holiday as it marks the start of the Italian summer holiday season. The country essentially closes down until September although tourist attractions typically stay open during that time for the tourist season.
In a Catholic country such as Italy, the Feast of the Assumption would be a notable event and indeed Assumption is a public holiday in many countries around the world on August 15.
However, the traditions of Ferragosto go further back in time to Ancient Rome and was a holiday long before the date gained its Christian religious significance.
As the Roman Empire turned to Christianity, this pagan holiday was adopted and converted into a holiday for the Assumption, the day the Virgin Mary was received in heaven.
Ferragosto became a modern holiday during the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. Attracted to its Imperial Roman origins, Mussolini declared it as a national holiday, as part of efforts to forge a national identity for Italy. During the time of Fascist rule, the regime would organize trips with special offers during Ferragosto, the intention being that the less wealthy social classes would get the opportunity to visit a different part of the country. The tradition of taking trips and holidays starting on August 15th became part of the culture and outlasted Mussolini’s reign.
Photo by Tim Mossholder