It’s March – FOLLOW UP ST. PAT’S…

… WITH ST. JOE’S!

BY JACK PILIPONIS

 

When you’ve finished being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, move on and enjoy St. Joseph’s Day like an Italian! It is only two days later, on March 19th.

Well known as the “foster father” of Jesus, St. Joseph has been honored on March 19th for more than a thousand years. Not surprisingly, given his paternal role, March 19th is also designated as Father’s Day in several countries, including Italy.

The Christian faith aspect of St. Joseph’s Day is also expressed in the long tradition of the St. Joseph’s Day Table. Supposedly this custom began (according to legend) when sometime during the Middle Ages some Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph for help during a severe drought. They promised that, if he answered, they would prepare a large feast in his honor. Carrying out this promise Italians, especially in Sicily and southern peninsula regions, would set up a St. Joseph’s altar at home as a focus of a novena (nine days) of prayer before the feast day. The altar would have three tiers to represent the Holy Trinity (see photo). This custom continues in various forms today.

On St. Joseph’s Day the altar, if there is one, and table are decorated with flowers, limes, candles, wine bottles and several special foods. Fava beans are strewn as that crop supposedly prevented the famine that gave rise to this tradition. The special foods include foods containing bread crumbs as a symbol of sawdust, as St. Joseph was a carpenter. Traditionally a St. Joseph’s Day feast was served and open to an entire village, especially for the needy.

Today many Catholic parishes as well as many Italian and Italian-émigré families, both in Italy and the countries where Italians emigrated to, carry on this delicious and delightful custom.

Some of the tasty things you may find on a St. Joseph’s Day Table:

Maccu di San Giuseppe — a thick soup made with crushed and dried fava beans, and flavored with fennel.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe — doughnuts dusted with sugar, cinnamon and honey, often filled with custard, jelly, cannoli-style cream or a honey-butter mixture (see photo).
Pignolatta (called struffoli in Naples) — a pyramid of fried pastry balls covered in honey, nuts and chocolate bits to resemble a pine cone.
Ravioli — fried and filled with sweetened ricotta and chickpeas.
Pasta Con Le Sarde — hollow tube pasta with olive oil, onions and finely chopped sardines and anchovies. This dish is often associated with Palermo.

All these dishes are meatless, as St. Joseph’s Day always occurs during Lent.

However, St. Joseph’s Day is not just a “foodie” event. The feast is celebrated in other ways, such as:

In Belmonte Mezzagno, about five miles south of Palermo, Sicily, locals burn wood and logs in public squares on the day before St. Joseph’s Day, as thanksgiving for the Saint’s help.
• New Orleans, Louisiana, and many other places (especially in Puglia, Sicily and other southern Italian areas) hold parades. As many Sicilians emigrated to the U.S. through New Orleans, its parade is particularly big. Even when Mardi Gras is over, New Orleans’ enthusiasm for partying lives on!
• Mission San Juan Capistrano, California, founded by Franciscans from Italy’s linguistic neighbor Spain, holds a Return of the Swallows Celebration, complete with concerts, dances, and ringing of its iconic bells.

Celebrate St. Joseph’s Day yourself! Enjoy some zeppole from an Italian bakery. Eat a special St. Joseph’s Day lunch at an Italian restaurant. Make and enjoy one or more St. Joseph’s Day specialties. Perhaps wear red like some Italians do. Then follow up and learn about the many other fun facets of Italian culture by signing up for a class or event at Sentieri Italiani.


Sentieri gratefully acknowledges these sources:

• “Italian Eats: Foods for the Feast of St. Joseph,” www.delish.com
(last consulted 3-4-2017)
• “St. Joseph’s Day,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Joseph’s_Day
(last consulted 3-4-2017)
• “Saint Joseph’s Day,” Life in Italy, http://www.lifeinitaly.com/heritage/st-joseph-day.asp
(last consulted 3-4-17)
• “Saint Joseph’s Day and The Return of the Swallows Celebration,” Mission San Juan Capistrano, http://www.missionsjc.com;events-venue
(last consulted 3-4-17)


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