Saint Joseph is one of the most beloved and celebrated saints among Italian-Americans. To many, he is known as the Patron Saint of Workers and the protector of the family, and the Italian community here in the States dedicates and honors St. Joseph with an elaborate feast every year on March 19th. For those not so familiar with this celebration, the famous story of Saint Joseph recounts the devastating famine in Sicily from many centuries ago, and how villagers prayed to St. Joseph to bring rain to the severe drought. Peasants prayed especially, to God through St. Joseph, asking for rain.
They made a promise that if the drought came to an end, they would fete both the Almighty Father and St. Joseph in an annual feast. A major aspect about the celebration of St. Joseph is the delectable Italian cuisine specifically cooked and baked for this day. The food dishes represent the harvest, and bread is baked in the shapes of a staff, a carpenter’s implement, a hand, thecross, and animals, all intended to represent St. Joseph and the life of Christ. The Sicilian tradition also includes presenting food with oranges and lemons, since they were part of the very few crops eaten during the famine in Sicily. It is important not to eat meat on this day, and in this case, those celebrating enjoy pasta dishes consisting of fish and other seafood. Pastries are also a necessity for St. Joseph Day: cakes, sweet breads, cookies, and especially zeppole or sfingi are all presented for everyone to enjoy. Today, the tradition of honoring the Patron Saint of Workers is continued in Italy and in the US, particularly among Italian communities around the country.
This year St. Joseph was celebrated by a number of ItalianAmericans-- families, friends, neighborhoods, local churches, and communal societies. The Italian Catholic Federation (ICF) was one of the many groups to host a lavish and traditional feast this past weekend, creating St. Joseph’s table at St. Benedict Church in Montebello, CA. The festivities comprised of the traditional Italian foods and desserts for all, as well as raffle drawings and games that rewarded cash prizes and a painted statue of St. Joseph.
The ICF and St. Benedict church are known for their prayers and monetary donations offered to the continuation of vocations and contribute to the education of young men training for priesthood. They also are an advocate for scholarships towards intermediate and high school students, as well as huge supporters of the Cooley’s Anemia Research and Treatment Program at Oakland Children’s Hospital. St. Joseph Table Society of Mary Star of the Sea also celebrated with their 42nd anniversary celebration honoring St. Joseph in San Pedro, CA. On Saturday the society held a viewing and blessing of the table, along with a Mass in the evening at the parish auditorium. On Sunday the real festivities began. Starting at noon was Mass with the carrying of the statue, and church members, church societies, Knights of Columbus, parish priests, and the Band Mestre Da Filarmonica all gathered for ceremony.
After Mass, a free “Poor Man’s Meal” consisting of pasta e fagioli, fried calamari, salad and bread was arranged for all guests, accompanied by musical entertainment from the band. More traditional St. Joseph desserts and treats were handed out in honor of the celebration. The Italian Church of Saint Peter’s commemorated the Feast as well, by organizing the traditional table and feeding about 2,500 people, thanks to the help of generous volunteers and donors.
Through the Scalabrini Outreach Program, the Church’s attendees and supporters also helped raise funds to benefit the community’s more vulnerable members. Whether it is a small celebration with family at home, or a vast gathering of friends and the community, St. Joseph Day is meant to celebrate life and be grateful for all its blessings, in honor of St. Joseph himself. Along with a classic prayer for the feast, there is also a classic greeting generally said throughout the festivities: “May St. Joseph always smile upon you.”