Ferragosto (August 15th) is one of the most important and respected holidays of the year in Italy. It's also a religious holiday, the Feast of the Assumption, a very important holiday for Catholic countries like Italy, and so there's something for everyone: beach, barbecues, religious processions, fireworks, horse races—you name it.
In recent years, things have changed somewhat. Lately, people have had less money to spend on long vacations, and laws have changed, allowing stores to stay open on holidays, so there's a bit more city life than there used to be. Still, Ferragosto is not when you want to get a flat tire (forare), or a toothache (mal di denti).
Le strade sono deserte, le serrande sono chiuse (streets are deserted, stores are shuttered). You'll see signs on those closed serrande saying chiuso per ferie (closed for vacation). Ferragosto is also one of the hottest holidays, full of sun and blue skies. People want to be at the seaside.
In a video about the culinary arts, an art critic mentions gli anni di piombo (the years of lead), the sad and scary seventies when terrorism was an everyday reality in Italy, and there was gunsmoke in the air. He gives us this image of Milan:
Sembrava che la nebbia ci fosse anche a Ferragosto.
It seemed as though there was fog even at Ferragosto (national holiday on August 15th).
Caption 26, L'arte della cucina - L'Epoca delle Piccole RivoluzioniPlay Caption
Luckily, these days Ferragosto is much calmer. In fact, Ferragosto (which can also refer to the days around the 15th of August) is the time of the year in Italy when it's hard to get certain things done because so many shops and services are chiusi per ferie. Small commissioni (errands, tasks) can get complicated, such as:
comprare il pane (buying bread)
portare la macchina dall'elettrauto (taking the car to the auto electrician)
farsi i capelli dal parrucchiere (getting your hair done at the hairdresser's)
mangiare al tuo ristorante preferito (eating at your favorite restaurant)
andare in palestra (going to the gym)
comprare l'aspirina per il mal di testa (buying aspirin for your headache)
pagare l'assicurazione della macchina (paying your car insurance)
prendere un appuntamento col dentista (making a appointment with the dentist)
spedire un pacchetto alla posta (mailing a package at the post office)
chiamare un corriere (calling a delivery service)
fare riparare la lavatrice (getting your washing machine repaired)
Italians worry about what supermarkets might or might not be open on and around Ferragosto, and they stock up on acqua minerale (bottled mineral water), birra (beer),salumi (cold cuts), carbonella (charcoal), crema solare (sunblock), and molto ancora (lots more) before heading for il mare (the seaside).
Before wishing you buone ferie, a quick reminder about le ferie. It's a noun, always used in the plural to indicate time off, leave, or vacation.
If you've kept up with Commissario Manara, you'll know how thrilled he was to finally have some ferie (time off), but invece (instead) he had to stay put and solve a crime.
Ho dovuto sudare sette camice,
I had to sweat seven shirts [I had to go to a lot of trouble],
ma alla fine la tua settimana di ferie eccola qua.
but in the end, your week of vacation, here it is.
Captions 20-21, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP6 - Reazione a CatenaPlay Caption
It's very easy to confuse the meaning of the adjective feriale, which refers to just the opposite situation. Giorni feriali (workdays) include Saturdays, but not giorni festivi (Sundays and holidays). These terms are very important when you're parking your macchina (car) in order to avoid getting una multa (a fine or ticket).
So whether you're spending your ferie (time off) a casa (at home) or going in vacanza (on vacation) someplace exciting, or even if you're working, here's hoping you can relax and enjoy the rest of the summer.
Yabla non è chiuso per ferie! (Yabla is not closed for vacation!)
Just for fun:
Here is an article to help you get a feel for the Ferragosto spirit: