The St. Joseph's Day Tradition
by Anthony Della Calce
March 18, 2007
Most people in this country – especially the students on any college campus – know that March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. Even if they are completely unaware of its actual meaning, they are probably familiar with shamrocks, leprechauns, and turning everything in sight green – the bread, the beer and, in Chicago, the river.
Every year, bars and pubs around the country become packed with people hoping to not remember a memorable night. As I was once told, everyone’s Irish on St. Patty’s Day.
But many of you may be unaware that another Saint has his own day of honor just two days after St. Patrick’s Day. March 19 is St. Joseph’s Day, which is most commonly celebrated in Italian communities throughout the world. But, what is St. Joseph’s Day?
In the Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s Day is a feast day in honor of St. Joseph, foster-father of Jesus and husband of Mary. However, St. Joseph’s Day is recognized and celebrated in many branches of Christianity as well as in many branches of Protestantism.
St. Joseph was declared the patron saint of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX on December 17, 1870, for his role as protector and guardian of the Church. He is also recognized as the patron saint of the worker, the family and the New World (the Americas).
Different cultures honor St. Joseph’s Day with different traditions. In Spain, the day is similar to Father’s Day. In Italy, where there is perhaps the greatest celebration, the people have La Festa di San Giuseppe – the Feast of Saint Joseph. The feast is held on the weekend closest to St. Joseph’s Day.
The origin of La Festa di San Giuseppe dates back to the middle ages when there was a terrible drought in Sicily. The people prayed to St. Joseph, asking him to bring rain. When the rains came, the people prepared a large feast to honor St. Joseph and thank him for answering their prayers. Large tables of food were prepared in public and crowds gathered to feast. Poor people were invited to share in the celebration and eat as much as they desired.
Since then, La Festa di San Giuseppe has become a tradition throughout Italy. It is customary to donate food to the needy, as was done at the original feast in Sicily. It is also customary to wear red in honor of St. Joseph. And of course, there are several customary culinary delights as well.
Since St. Joseph’s Day falls during Lent, no meat is served. Instead, fish and pasta are staples of the feast. One typical dish is pasta with breadcrumbs. (St. Joseph was a carpenter so the breadcrumbs are meant to symbolize sawdust.)
Also, fava beans are generally served as a part of the meal because during the drought in Sicily, they still managed to flourish while almost all the other crops perished. For this reason, the fava bean is considered a symbol of luck and a reminder to pray to St. Joseph.
But, Zeppole might be the most popular St. Joseph’s day treat. Zeppole is an Italian pastry made by taking a fried puff pastry shell and inserting ricotta filling (the type of filling that can be found in a cannoli). Ricotta is the traditional filling but vanilla and chocolate fillings are also common. Zeppole, (also known is Sfinge di San Giuseppe – St. Joseph’s Cream Puffs), can usually be found at any Italian bakery during the month of March.
So a couple days after enjoying the festivities of St. Patrick’s Day, I encourage everyone to enjoy the feast of St. Joseph’s Day. Find a nearby Italian bakery and treat yourself to some Zeppole.
After all, if everyone can be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, then certainly everyone can be Italian on St. Joseph’s Day. Buon Giorno di San Giuseppe – Happy St. Joseph’s Day.