Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

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That’s right. Not only is March 19th St. Joseph’s Day, but Pope Francis has proclaimed 2021 as the year of St. Joseph. What? Don’t give me that. You do too know who St. Joseph is. He’s the guy God trusted to raise and protect his only son Jesus. He’s also the patron saint of workers. You yourself may be a worker, or at least were at one time. But there are other good secular reasons to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day. This is a day to feed the less fortunate and more generally pledge your support to others.

The origin story

The origins of St. Joseph’s Day, as a day of sharing what you have with others dates back to the 1600s, when a long drought hit Sicily, resulting in famine. The people prayed to St. Joseph to intercede on their behalf. The drought ended, and to show their thanks they made St. Joseph their patron saint and shared what they had with those who were less fortunate. A tradition gradually developed where altars dedicated to St. Joseph, were built on his feast day, with platters of food and those in need were invited in to dine.

In the United States St. Joseph’s Day is celebrated in Gloucester Massachusetts and Slidell Louisiana and pretty much anywhere else you find lots of Sicilians. My great grandmother made altars to St. Joseph, for a time, but eventually just started sending money to a woman in Terrasini to make them on her behalf.

A holiday made for vegetarians

Historically, the people of Sicily didn’t have much meat in their diets to begin with, but on top of that, St. Joseph’s day falls within Lent, so all of the traditional foods associated with the holiday are meatless so it’s pretty much made for vegetarians. No having to make due with only side dishes today!

Did I mention the pastries?

There’s something else very special about St. Joseph’s Day. It’s the only time of year you can find zeppole, a Sicilian choux pastry, filled with yellow cream and Amarena sour cherries. Up until 2020 it had been well over 40 years since I’d had a one, but my spouse looked up the recipe, ordered the special cherries online, and makes them for for me every year now.

A few years ago I started building my own St. Joseph’s altars. Mine are much simpler, but I did keep some key elements, and I try to add something new each year.

St. Joseph’s altar 2021

  1. The Most Chaste Heart of Saint Joseph: This is the second version of the symbol that I’ve designed and 3D printed.
  2. Saw dust: Usually, St. Joseph’s day altars include a small plate of bread crumbs to represent saw dust. I’ve got plenty of saw dust though.
  3. Hand Plane: St. Joseph was a carpenter, so some altars include tools of his trade. My antique hand tools could fill several altars, but I’m keeping it simple.
  4. Fruit is almost always included, especially citrus.
  5. Photos of family who are no longer with us: The larger photo is of my grandfather, Captain Joseph Parisi and the crew of his ship, the Gaitano S. The small photo is of my grandmother, Josephine Scola Parisi, and her sisters.
  6. Statue of Joseph and Jesus.

Other items that I do not have: Fancy loaves of bread, Fava beans, flowers (all things that are difficult to find in March in Maryland).

Why should you celebrate St. Joseph’s day?

You don’t have to be Catholic or even particularly religious to celebrate St. Joseph’s day. Just two days ago you were plenty excited to celebrate St. Patrick’s day (another Catholic holiday). St. Joseph’s day has so much more to offer. If you must celebrate a holiday with excess consumption and drunkenness, consider also celebrating a day of giving, helping and compassion, two days later. Now more than ever, considering current crises and the resurgence of nationalism and hate, we need to set aside some time to reflect on how we can help those around us. Just as on Saint Patrick’s day, when everyone is Irish, St. Joseph’s day should be a day when everyone is Sicilian. Now get out there and feed people!

Viva San Giuseppe!