August 15 is one of the most important Catholic holidays. It celebrates the day that the Blessed Virgin Mary was “Assunta in Cielo” (Assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven to be with her son, Jesus).
This ancient Italian festival has Pagan origins and dates back to the Romans. During the month of August, a series of festivals (Feriae Augusti) took place celebrating the Gods, who oversaw the ripening of crops, the harvest, fertility and maternity. Emperor Augustus (18 BC) decided to link all of the festivals together, thus, providing an “adequate” rest period after the hard labor of the previous months.
To this day, many Italians take full advantage of the month-long holiday. All throughout Italy, families escape the summer heat of the city, heading off to the sea or the mountains. If you’ve ever been to Italy during the month of August, you are probably familiar with this handwritten note on the windows of most of the shops and restaurants “Chiuso per Ferie,” (closed for the holidays).
With the advent of Christianity, people turned their devotion to the Blessed Virgin, but it wasn’t until 1950, that Pope Pius XII, solemnly proclaimed August 15, the day of celebration for the Blessed Virgin.
Today, Ferragosto or Assumption Day (a Holy Day of Obligation), is still honored as a feast day.