The Feast of St. Joseph, celebrated on March 19, is considered an important symbol of Catholicism and Italian heritage. Although not an official holy day, it honors the patron saint of Sicily for relieving the island of a terrible drought during the Middle Ages. The story says that lack of rainfall prevented the growth of Sicilian crops and the islanders began to starve. The people prayed to St. Joseph and promised him a feast in his name if he could bring rainfall.
Joseph, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, is honored for ending the drought and remembered for his role in the holy family. The feast serves as time to give to those less fortunate and is celebrated with three typical traditions.
The first tradition is a meatless meal, usually consisting of fish and minestrone. Meat, considered a luxury at the time, is omitted to maintain a modest feast.
The second tradition, often presented on the Sunday closest to the feast date, is an altar arranged to honor Joseph. The altar is decorated with various symbols of his life, including statues of him as a father to Jesus; lilies, a symbol of Mary’s purity; and breadcrumbs, a symbol of Joseph’s life as a carpenter. This virtual altar describes the significance of each element of a St. Joseph’s altar.
The third tradition is a reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s journey to find a place to give birth. The reenactment serves to teach the lesson that you should never turn away those in need. This is an important theme of the feast.
The Fava Bean or St. Joseph’s Bean is also a popular symbol of the feast because it grows with very little water and was the only surviving crop during the drought. Zeppoles or Italian cream puffs are a popular desert served during the feast.
How does your family or lodge celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph? Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by OSIA National Office Intern, Carol Cummings. Cummings is a senior at American University, majoring in print journalism, with a minor in Italian.