Growing up in a large church that was comprised mostly of Irish and Italian families, we had two big feast days we celebrated each year in Lent which are adjacent to each other. I have already written about St. Patrick, and in terms of celebrations in North America, his is certainly the better known. But a second celebration generally falls on the same weekend and that is the commemorative feast of St. Joseph, the husband of Mary.
St. Joseph’s Day is March 19th and is a feast day celebrated by Italians to commemorate St. Joseph’s intercessions for them during a severe drought in Sicily during the Middle Ages. On this day, many Italians wear red – just as the Irish wear green on the 17th.
One of the customs I remember the best is the St. Joseph’s Day table (also known as la tavola di San Giuse). In our church hall it was set up in the shape of a large cross and was groaning with wonderful food. Typically the tables include meatless dishes (although seafood might be included), minestrone, pasta, wonderful baked goods, and as I was looking for resources on the tradition, I discovered that fava beans are part of many celebrations as this was one of the only things that the Sicilians were able to grow during the famine and the beans kept them from starvation. The commemoration is one centered in thankfulness and is a reminder of answered prayer.
The table usually has a statue of St. Joseph featured prominently and the table is set to remind us of the Trinity. Pastries might be shaped like baskets, fish, chalices, or doves. The table often also has visual reminders of the life of Joseph – such as carpentry tools. There is a wonderfully informative website that includes background on St. Joseph, on the celebration, a few recipes, and devotional writings. You can find it here. Many churches use the celebration to raise funds for food pantries and other community needs.
In addition to the web link, the library has a variety of resources to learn more about St. Joseph. The St. Joseph’s Day table pictured is from Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Kansas City, Missouri.