Originally, Ferragosto was the day marking the middle of summer and the end of hard harvesting labor in the fields. In time, the Roman Catholic Church adopted the August 15th date to commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Festa dell’Assunta. But the name of this holiday celebrated in the Roman Empire to honor the gods, in particular lunar Diana (the Roman equivalent of the Greek Artemis) and the cycle of fertility and ripening, comes from Ferie Augusti – the time when Emperor Augustus took time off imperial duties.

The tradition endures: Italians leave work and the city during Ferragosto and the majority of business shuts down (not all, though! Check out our list of great places to eat that are open during Ferragosto). For those remaining in town, tradition is cooling down with lots of watermelon.

Italians celebrate ferragosto with watermelon

The hand-painted signs on country roadside stands selling whole watermelons or chilled slices may read the word “anguria,” or “cocomero” (if you’re in Rome). In absence of portable coolers, mid-August watermelons are usually kept cold bobbing in nearby fountains.

Ferragosto in the city can be a peaceful time, and a perfect opportunity to enjoy the city sans traffic and noise!

On behalf of all of us at Casa Mia, we wish you all a refreshing and delicious Buon Ferragosto!