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Ferragosto: Differences between Italy and United States

When I was a little child, August was my absolute favorite month. The world seemed to slow down, to the point of grinding to a standstill. My hometown of Rome becomes a ghostly desert of stores closed for vacation and tourists roaming helplessly through narrow streets to find a “nasone,” the typical water fountains one can find in the Italian capital. No locals can be found, especially on Ferragosto, August 15, which marks the holiday celebrating the Assumption of Mary. There is even a funny Italian movie I recommend, called “Pranzo di Ferragosto” (Mid-Summer Lunch), which deals with some of the issues of being stuck in the city during summer.

Chiuso per ferie

A typical sign outside a store in Italy during the month of August (photo courtesy Città di Modena)

But in 2008, when I moved to the United States, I was struck by a whole different approach to Ferragosto, and August in general. It was just another month on the calendar. Granted, it is still the hottest month, making it the perfect time to take a vacation, but there is a lot going on. Families are already getting ready to send their children to school, while in Italy children know they can lay back until at least the second week of September. Buses and trains follow regular schedules, and no one seems to mind going to work on August 15. Even I, fresh off the plane from Italy, didn’t have much time to ponder over my stunning discovery back then. I had class to go to! (I was enrolled in a master’s program in Chicago at the time.)

Six years have gone by and now I don’t even notice when Ferragosto comes and goes. It’s a working day like any other, although the air conditioning is likely to be set on high. But since moving to Boston in the summer of 2010, the month of August bares a different meaning. There is a whole flurry of activities in the Italian community, and you just cannot help but notice how important the high summer season is. I’m referring especially to the feasts that take place all across the region.

St. Anthony's Feast in the North End

St. Anthony’s Feast in the North End

The North End of course holds the largest number of feasts and processions, which are more than just a tradition brought from the old country. They are special occasions to spend time together with family and friends. The August feasts include St. Agrippina di Mineo, Madonna della Cava, Fisherman’s Feast and St. Anthony’s, with a procession dedicated to St. Lucia usually at the end of the month. But there are other feasts just as big and important in other parts of the region, such as San Rocco in Malden, the Feasts of the Three Saints in Lawrence and the Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian in Cambridge.

The dedication and work that members of decades-old societies put into organizing the feasts is inspiring. I have had the fortune of meeting many of them during these three years in Boston, and you can tell they just can’t wait for their feast or procession to be here. It is the same Italian spirit that feeds the desire to stay together and enjoy time with family and friends. Sure, there is the important religious and spiritual aspect of the feasts, but ultimately I think these traditions live on because of their communal power.

I’ll always remember my first visit to the Feast of the Three Saints in Lawrence in 2011. The city has changed so much since the days the first immigrants from Sicily organized the celebration in honor of saints Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino. Most Italian families have moved farther out, and little has remained of what used to be a closely-knit community. But the tradition lives on, and this year the feast celebrates its 90th anniversary. People come back from all over the country to celebrate with their old friends and family. It’s almost like Christmas: a holiday you know you’ll be spending with the people you cherish most.

About Nicola Orichuia

Nicola is an Italian journalist and media enthusiast living in the United States. He keeps an eye on the Italian-American communities across the country and is always looking for positive stories to highlight.

One comment

  1. Maria Carmen Triola

    I completely agree with Nicola , I spent almost 3 years in Boston and the spirit and passion of Italians is alive in every corner of North End and Malden and Cambridge , miss you all !