The St. Joseph’s Day Tradition: La Festa di San Giuseppe

Most people in this country 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. In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron Saint, and many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to St. Joseph (“San Giuseppe” in Italian) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages.According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph’s Day altars and traditions. 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. 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.)

They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily gathered to feast and prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The poor people were invited to share in the celebration and eat as much as they desired. Giving food to the needy is customary on St. Joseph’s Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Sicilian pastry known as a zeppola on St. Joseph’s Day. Sweets are popular because St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs. He is also recognized as the patron saint of the worker, the family and the New World (the Americas).Zeppole are 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.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.So in honor of St. Joseph, join us here at Leon’s on Monday, March 19th – sport your favorite red outfit, bring in a canned or dried food item for the needy and we’ll give you a free Zeppola to mark the occasion!