The Italian Holiday: Dolce far niente!
A guest post by Tara Jantzen
This month is more than half over and many of us in the U.S. are thinking about back-to-school and the end of our summer vacations. While we’re exhausted from shuttling the kids around to every summer activity or outing, and now dreading the inevitable workweek, most Italians have closed up shop and are still at the beach or in the mountains for the entire month of August. They are ready for dolce far niente, or, the sweetness of doing nothing.
On August 15, Italians celebrated Ferragosto, a public holiday coinciding with the religious celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s marked across the country with fireworks displays and processions of locals carrying statues of Mary. It’s also a period of relaxation and completely disconnecting from work life. It means spending time with family and friends, soaking up sunshine, enjoying great food and wine, and doing pretty much anything other than work.
This is what they call ferie, or holiday.
Italians have a very different perspective on work and holidays than we seem to have in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong, we usually intend on being completely offline and fully engaged in the leisurely life. But inevitably, we grab for the smartphone or open up the laptop. The Italians are different—they have this holiday thing down to an art form.
First, you’ll likely hear most Europeans say they’re “going on holiday,” whereas Americans are “on vacation.” The word vacation originated in the U.S. with the affluent as they ‘vacated’ their estate homes for other extravagant locations—a term that never quite caught on in other countries.
Secondly, in Italy work fits around social and family life, not vice versa. They experience everything quite fully, including their work, but they separate the two much more easily and happily than Americans. You’ll never hear of Italians forgoing vacation days like we heroically do in the west. They relish in their personal time and don’t take it for granted even for a second. They live in the moment, and they live passionately.
And you certainly won’t hear of them spending their holidays attending cooking classes or volunteering for a social cause. They take rest and relaxation quite seriously, and they almost always do it with their extended families in tow.
Spending time with the family, la famiglia, is extremely important to the Italian culture, and it goes well beyond the nucleus members of parents and children. Italian families are consistently inclusive of the entire extended network—grandparents, cousins, in-laws, grandkids, you name it. The children often continue living with their parents well into their twenties and even thirties, until they themselves are married. But they are raised to remain close into adulthood, integrating their future families into the larger group, and so on. They take great care of each other and thoroughly enjoy spending time together. It is the Italian way.
Italians aren’t big on planning every moment of their holiday in advance like the rest of us. They tend to rise late and mull the day’s plan over an espresso. Always accommodating these social creatures, they stay as a group and plan accordingly.
And they often plan around the simple pleasures of food and wine. You’ll often find large families gathered on the beaches dining in the local cafes or picnicking together in the mountains—just as they would at their home tables—replicating the large meals carefully and lovingly prepared in mother’s kitchen.
Not veering from tradition in any way, they break for a lengthy lunch around 1-2:30 pm, and an even longer dinnertime anywhere between 7:30 and 10 pm. These extended meals are not just to feed the body, but more importantly, they are social rituals—rituals where they also view alcohol as an important accompaniment to meals rather than inebriation and vacation escape.
If you are lucky enough to holiday in Italy and you happen upon one of these carefree clans, you can’t help but be struck by the pure ease with which they live, laugh, and love together. It’s hard not to be just a bit envious of them. They embrace life and never resist. They lift it up and live within it. It is the epitome of la grande vita!
Tara Jantzen is a freelance writer living in Southern California. Throughout her extensive career she has traveled all over the world, but considers Italy her favorite destination. She’s spent many trips learning first-hand about food, cooking, olive oil, wine, and the spirit of the Italian lifestyle. She has also completed the WSET Level 2 Award in Wine and Spirits and hopes to continue her wine education with Level 3 in the near future.