Ferragosto, the Italian national vacation

In case you’re wondering why you are already getting so many auto-replys and vacation responses to your emails to colleagues and friends in Italy, it’s because in August the Italians celebrate Ferragosto (officially August 15), the Italian nationwide vacation.

It’s actually an ancient tradition that can trace its roots to the days of Emperor Augustus (63 BCE-19 CE) who proclaimed it an annual celebration and day of rest following the traditional harvest.

During the Fascist era, the Italian government offered citizens incentives to travel for Ferragosto by offering discounted train fair. It was during this period that the holiday became such an important date on the calendar for the Italian people. By the 1960s, Ferragosto had become a highly popular holiday and cultural phenomenon.

Today, an overwhelming number of Italians take their vacation the week of Ferragosto.

Just the other day, an American colleague in Rome noted on her Facebook that “the city is emptying out already!”

Many small businesses close and many large companies give their employees vacation time on or around Ferragosto. Basically, the whole country — except for people who work in essential jobs and sectors — takes a vacation and heads to the beach or the mountains (the best place to be during Italy’s hottest month).

Ferragosto can be frustrating for Americans who do business with Italy because in the U.S., the week of Ferragosto and the last two weeks of August in general are normal workweeks.

But for Italians, the holiday and its observance are such an important part of their yearly rhythms and culture that everyone knows to expect delays in getting work done during August.

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