FORT WORTH, Texas, March 21, 2013 — While many of us were still a bit discombobulated following the St. Patrick’s festivities, another saint had his feast day as well. Unfortunately for St. Joseph, the wearing of the red comes a bit too soon for many after the wearing of the green to be up for more celebrating.
The fact that his day has passed does not lessen St. Joseph’s significance. As the definition of “family” changes to keep up with modern times, it is important to recognize and honor Christianity’s foremost step-father.
Several liturgical churches remember this man and many ethnic communities celebrate the day. And for Sicilians and Poles, St. Joseph is just as important as St. Patrick is to Ireland.
Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father. He was the earthly father to Jesus. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke mention him. Church tradition holds that he died before Jesus started his ministry at the age of thirty.
The Middle Ages brought a terrible drought to Sicily. People were starving. Virtually nothing grew, except fava beans. The people asked St. Joseph to intercede for them so their harvest would be plentiful. And it was, thus saving the island from further devastation.
Filled with gratitude the people promised to make annual offerings of food to honor the saint and to remember the poor.
Ann Hetzel Gunkel, Ph.D., says on her website Polish Easter Traditions that in modern times, between the 1890’s and 1930’s:
“Polish and Italian immigrants were faced with an American Catholic church hierarchy controlled largely by Irish clergy, most often unsympathetic to the newcomers whom they often regarded as inferior, primitive, overly demonstrative and superstitious.
“In the face of this disdain for Southern and Eastern European Catholicism, Poles responded by forming their own Polish language parishes…while Italians responded by preserving their religious traditions in the form of “Feasts”…run by patronage societies from their home villages and cities.”
As with the green worn by the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, Poles and Italians express their ethnic pride with the “wearing of the red,” a color that appears in both countries’ flags.
The celebration starts with going to Mass. Then there are parades and in respect to Lent, huge meatless feasts mark the day. People gather in homes or church halls decorated in red and white. The food is displayed on a three tiered table referred to as St. Joseph’s Table. The three tiers honor the Holy Trinity.
Elaborate foods and decorations grace the setting such as stuffed artichokes, pasta and fish, pasta with breadcrumbs that symbolize the sawdust that would have covered St. Joseph’s work floor, cookies, pastries, cakes, and other delicacies.
There are bread loaves shaped like fish representing the apostles, St. Joseph’s staff and baskets. Food favorites include a pastry called zeppole, pierogi, Makowiec, and, of course, fava beans. The beans kept people alive during the draught and are considered good luck.
In addition to the food, a statue of St. Joseph, a stalk of lily blossoms, votive candles, and lace cloths decorate the tables. There is also a basket to collect donations for the needy.
Once a priest ceremoniously blesses the food there are shouts of Viva la tavola di San Giuseppe! or Long live the table of Saint Joseph! and the feast begins.
Tuesday was extra special because the Roman Catholic Church welcomed a new leader. Pope Francis I is now the Holy See to over one billion Roman Catholics worldwide.
During his speech, his words reflected the history of St. Joseph’s Day when he called for the protection of the weak, the poor and the world environment.
The new leader, like Joseph, is known as a humble man. The Pope’s message bespoke simplicity and humility and that they shouldn’t be confused with weakness. Sounds like wise words for everyone to live by.
St. Joseph’s Day is also known as the day in which swallows return to San Juan Capistrano in California. Every year like clockwork they arrive on or very near this date.
This day is also Father’s Day in Italy. What a great way to honor the father who started it all. And why not celebrate him this week when we give thanks for the families we are blessed with? whether your family is modern or traditional.
Sounds like a lot of good reasons to celebrate. So go put on the red, even if you’re not Sicilian or Polish, and join in the fun. Buona Festa di San Giuseppe! or Szczęśliwego dnia Świętego Józefa! Happy St. Joseph’s Day!
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